Anthropologist Frank Speck 1881-1950


Frank Speck with Standing Deer in Cherokee, NC in 1936.

Frank Gouldsmith Speck (November 8, 1881 – February 6, 1950) was an American anthropologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples among the Eastern Woodland Native Americans of the United States and First Nations peoples of eastern boreal Canada.

Born in Brooklyn, Speck was sickly as a child. His parents sent him at age seven to live with a family friend, Fidelia Fielding, in Mohegan, Connecticut in hopes that the rural environment would improve his health. She was a widow and Native American, the last speaker of her Indigenous, Mohegan Pequot language. While living with her, Speck acquired “his interests in literature, natural history and Native American linguistics.”

Speck spent most of his professional life in the field with Native people.  He was adopted into the Seneca in the Turtle Clan.  Instead of focusing on the western tribes, as was popular at the time, he focused on eastern tribal “salvage anthropology,” salvaging what was left of the culture of endangered, extinct or nearly extinct tribes.

You can read more about him here:

Speck’s papers were collected and archived by the American Philosophical Society, of which he was a member.  There are also collections of his papers at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

It looks like the majority of Frank Speck’s papers are at American Philosophical Library in Philadelphia.

Some of his teaching notes at the University of Pennsylvania, below.

Speck’s work, especially his unpublished works and notes, would be of great interest.  In particular, he spent a significant amount of time in eastern North Carolina and Virginia, and his notes and interviews would take us back in time a century.  Some of the people he interviewed would have been born in the first half of the 1800s, and their grandparents, whom they may well have known personally, would have been born perhaps as early as the Revolutionary War.

Ok, who wants to go to Philadelphia?  Just think of it as Indiana Jones, but inside.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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1 Response to Anthropologist Frank Speck 1881-1950

  1. Cousin Belle says:

    Roberta, I’d love to help – I will email you with my contact information.

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