Waldo Lee McAtee papers: An Ornithologist in the Making

While Waldo Lee McAtee may not be a household name, the man established quite a renown in the ornithological–or bird science–community over the course of his lifetime. McAtee spent the the majority of his career, more than thirty years, as an employee for the Bureau of Biological Survey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture based in Washington, D.C., where he focused on birds and their feeding habits. His trail of accomplishments is long, including widespread involvement in professional associations, scientific publishing, influence in establishing many of the U.S. bird protection laws which exist today, and more. Overall, McAtee was a dedicated advocate for Wildlife management and awareness, and he got his start right here at Indiana University! The IU Archives even has the papers to prove it.

Laboratory notes on various birds accompanied by the faint pencil sketch of a bird at top, Waldo L. McAtee's coursework, 1900-1905

McAtee came to Indiana University in 1900 to study Biology and Zoology, earning his A.B. in 1904 and A.M. in 1906. He was a dedicated student and immersed himself in his topics of study, classifying specimens as curator for the I.U. Zoological Museum and teaching various scientific courses when professors could not attend lectures. The Waldo L. McAtee papers at the Indiana University Archives attest to his dedication as a budding scholar. Though the collection comprises only one box of material, it includes a number of laboratory notebooks, scientific drawings, and field notes created by McAtee during his formative years as a scientist.

Scientific sketch of a grasshobber, Waldo L. McAtee's laboratory notes from an introductory Biology course, 1900-1901

Though the collection also includes a number of publications and correspondence, I am personally drawn to McAtee’s notes and drawings due to his painstaking attention to detail, meticulous dedication, and thoroughness. Furthermore, a sample of McAtee’s notes, particularly ornithological field notes on bird population around Indiana University, harbors particular potential in a comparative study to more contemporary records. As climate change, species endangerment, and habitat loss are increasingly common topics in the present day, it is interesting to consider the contrast between wildlife in and around the modern day Indiana University campus and its state more than one hundred years prior.

Meticulous field notes on the bird population around Indiana University, quthored by Waldo L. McAtee circa 1900

If you are interested in further exploring Waldo Lee McAtee’s early legacy, contact us here at the Archives! Curious about McAtee’s later career? Try doing a quick search for him on Archive Grid, an amalgamated search portal which links users to archival collection descriptions from thousands of repositories; search Archive Grid from Indiana University or any other subscribing institution. The Library of Congress, Cornell University, the American Philosophical Society, and UCLA all join Indiana University in preserving McAtee’s history.