Henry Wetherbee Henshaw

                                                        ┌── Oliver Henshaw
                                                        │    1767-1844 
                           ┌── William Henshaw ─────────┤
                           │    1804-1891               │
                           │                            └── Lydia Andrews
Henry Wetherbee Henshaw ───┤
B: 1850                    │                            ┌── Jeremiah Wetherbee
D: 1930                    │                            │
No Issue                   └── Sarah Holden Wetherbee ──┤
                                1810-1881               │
                                                        └── Mercy Holden
Henry Wetherbee Henshaw     [ID 02598] Click here to switch to Ahnentafel view: Ahnentafel View

Born Mar 3 1850, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.1,2,3,4,5,6,7  

Henry was educated in Cambridge public schools.  He became educated as a naturalist chiefly by outdoor study.  

He joined the Wheeler Survey, 1872, as a naturalist and explored the West, making reports thereon until 1879 when he joined the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.  He was connected with the Bureau of Ethnology, chiefly in an administrative capacity, until 1893; during part of that time he was editor of American Anthropologist.  

He was in the Hawaiian Islands from 1894-1904 devoting much of his time to the study of Island biology.  

He was an appointed as an "administrative biologist" with the Biological Survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in June 1905 and promoted to Chief of that office in June 1910.  

Henry was also a charter member of the National Geographic Society.  In the magazine's pemier issue (Volume 1, Issue 1, 1888), the society's membership list includes Henry Wetherbee Henshaw.  

In addition to several works published by The National Geographic Society, he authored the following:

- Report on Ornithology of Nevada, Utah, California, Colorado, New mexico, and Arizona, 1875.  
- Birds of the Hawaiian Islands, 1902

Henry made his home in Washington, D.C.2  

Henry was shown in the 1890 city directory of Washington, D.C.:8

Henry W. Henshaw, 13 Iowa cir northwest; occupation: geol sur.

The following was noted in "The Washington Post" (Washington, D.C.) on February 15, 1890:9

Transfers of Real Estate.  
Elizabeth M. Power to H.W. Henshaw, for $3,294.75, lot 14, Rosemont Park.  

Henry was shown in the 1930 census (Apr 9 1930), St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, D.C.:6

Henshaw, Henry W., age 80, born in United States; parents born in United States; single.
Also in the same hospital in 1930 was the widow of second cousin Charles W. Henshaw.10  

Henry Wetherbee Henshaw died Aug 1 1930, Washington, D.C.; age 81.1,2,7  Henry died unmarried.2  

A biographical sketch of Henry Wetherbee Henshaw was published by The Washington Biologists' Field Club:7

Henry was a naturalist from the beginning of his childhood.  He was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 3, 1850, and was the youngest of seven children.  His parents encouraged his passion with nature so he was allowed to wander and explore.  He developed a love of birds, and sometime between the ages of 10 and 12 he shot his first specimen.  He entered Cambridge High School to prepare for Harvard.  There he met a man named William Brewster, who shared the same interests as Henry.  Brewster’s knowledge of birds was greater than Henry’s, and their friendship blossomed into a learning experience.  Brewster had already begun a collection of birds and eggs, and together they perfected the preparation of study skins.  Due to delicate health, Henry was unable to attend Harvard, but instead was invited to go on a voyage to the southern coast of Louisiana where he began his career as a field naturalist.  

Henry subsequently went on many trips where he collected and learned more in the field.  In July of 1872, he went to Provo, Utah, as a collector for the Wheeler Expedition.  His great love of birds fed his hunger to study them in new and uncharted territory.  In 1879, the Wheeler’s Survey merged with the US Geological Survey where Henry worked but still devoted his summers to field work out West.  In the fall of 1872, Henry met C. Hart Merriam and they became lifelong friends.  Henry wrote Merriam many letters about his different field expeditions, usually addressing them "My dear Merriam."  In the summer of 1874, Henry did his most notable work as a collector.  He collected many unknown species of birds from Arizona and also made some valuable observations.  At a later point, Henry was studying anatomy with the full intention of studying medicine, but then became undecided in his decision to continue.  

After a not so successful trip to Lake Tahoe, he got an offer in 1880 from Major John Wesley Powell to work with the Bureau of American Ethnology.  As an ethnologist he began his work having to secure information among the Indians of the Pacific Coast States for the Census of 1880.  Then Henry studied the Indians north of Mexico to prepare material classifying the families’ linguistics with results published in 1891.  In 1907-10 two volumes of Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, were published by the Bureau of American Ethnology.  Henry’s previous work and continued study of these Indians provided the basis for these volumes.  While Henry was in the West during 1883, he was one of the first committee members to prepare a code of nomenclature and a checklist of North American Birds for the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU).  He served two terms as vice-president of the AOU and unfortunately had to decline the offer of president.  Henry, among other men, helped organize the Cosmos Club.  By 1888, Major Powell was bogged down with the Geological Survey and placed upon Henry the complicated administration of the Bureau of Ethnology, during which he also aided in the publication of the "Anthropologist."  

In December of 1894, due to failing health he resigned from the Bureau and moved to the Hawaiian Islands to regain his strength.  There he became known as a photographer capturing many valuable images such as the native costumes, houses, and other hard to reproduce negatives.  By 1905, Henry was back in Washington with the Bureau of Biological Survey and became an administrative assistant, then assistant chief, and finally chief when Dr. Merriam resigned.  While Henry was chief of the Biological Survey, a landmark law in American conservation was passed by congress.  It was called the "Federal Migration Bird Law" originating as the "Weeks-McLean Act."  He also worked with the Migratory Bird Treaty with Great Britain.  His quick wit and droll sense of humor were entertaining and brought joy to colleagues.  

Henry was selected as an honorary member of the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1905.  

He dedicated his life work to the environment and donated his own personal collection to museums.  Henry was a true naturalist who continued to work as chief of the Biological Survey until 1916 when he retired due to declining health.  He periodically helped out former associates or anyone else he could.  He died on August 1, 1930; he was 81.

For more biographical information on Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, see:

"The AUK: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology", Vol. XLIX, No. 4, Oct 1932: http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v049n04/p0399-p0427.pdf
Hodge, F. W. and Merriam, C. Hart. 1931. "Henry Wetherbee Henshaw. American Anthropologist". 1931 33 (1): 98-105

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw 7

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw 1873, age 23, and 1878, age 28 11

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw 1878, Donkey, Camp Bidwell, California 12

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw 1894, age 43 11

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw 1904 12

(photo)Photo: Henry Wetherbee Henshaw March 1912, age 62 11


  1. Library of Congress, National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC), http://lcweb.loc.gov/z3950/rliname.html
  2. Contribution from Mark Hoy Henshaw citing: biographical information
    on Henry Wetherbee Henshaw provided by the National Geographic Society.
  3. 1850 census, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; roll M432-325, page 14, line #34, dwelling #215, family #243.
  4. 1860 census, 4th Ward, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; roll M653-508, page 511, line #32, dwelling #2477, family #3186.
  5. 1870 census, 4th Ward, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts; roll M593-624, page 614, line #5, dwelling #379, family #495.
  6. 1930 census, Precinct 11, Washington, D.C.; roll T626-302, ED 344, page 19B, line #99.
  7. Biographical sketch of Henry Wetherbee Henshaw; The Washington Biologists' Field Club:
  8. Washington, D.C. City Directory, 1890; http://www.ancestry.com.
  9. "The Washington Post", Feb 15 1890; posted Jan 6 2005 by Bonnie McDonald () to DC-OLD-NEWS-L.
  10. 1930 census, Precinct 11, Washington, D.C.; roll T626-302, ED 344, page 19B, line #98.
  11. "The AUK: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology", Vol. XLIX, No. 4 Oct 1932:
  12. Photo courtesy of Sharon Hinshaw-Payne.

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