The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
S. Dillon Ripley was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his role as an ornithologist and as the eighth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1964 to 1984.
Ripley was interviewed by Pamela M. Henson from 1977 to 1993 at his offices at the Smithsonian and at his home in Litchfield, Connecticut. These interviews cover his youth, early interests in natural history, education, career on the faculty at Yale, field work and expeditions, tenure as Secretary of the Smithsonian, involvement in international conservation efforts, and reminiscences of individuals, including Sálim Ali, August Heckscher, Joseph H. Hirshhorn, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, and Ralph Rinzler. The collection consists of 38.5 hours of audiotape recording and circa 831 pages of transcript.
S. Dillon Ripley (1913-2001), ornithologist and eighth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, developed an interest in natural history in his youth. He received the B.A. from Harvard University in 1936 and the Ph.D. from Yale University in 1943. He served briefly as a curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History before joining the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. From 1946 to 1963, he was on the faculty of Yale University and served as Director of their Peabody Museum from 1959 to 1963. In 1964, he was appointed Secretary of the Smithsonian. During his twenty year tenure as Secretary, he oversaw the development of the Anacostia Museum, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Festival of American Folklife, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of African Art, Renwick Gallery, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Associates, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Smithsonian magazine. Ripley was also involved in numerous conservation organizations, including the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Islands, International Council for Bird Preservation, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature. His interests in international affairs also led him to play a role in the foundation of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Smithsonian Institution Archives
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