History of the Phoebe Hearst Museum

Museum Founding and Growth

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, formerly the Lowie Museum of Anthropology, was founded in 1901. Its major patron, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, supported systematic collecting efforts by both archaeologists and ethnographers to provide the University of California with the materials for a museum to support a department of anthropology. Hearst hoped that the anthropology program at the University of California, the first anthropology department and museum established west of the Mississippi, would become a center for the discipline.

Other important early figures in the history of the Museum were: Frederic W. Putnam, the first director, who was simultaneously director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard; Alfred L. Kroeber, who acted as director from 1909 to 1947; the archaeologists Max Uhle and George Reisner, who conducted archaeological expeditions in Peru and Egypt resulting in major museum collections; and a variety of researchers specializing in California ethnography and archaeology (including Alfred L. Kroeber, Pliny E. Goddard, Samuel A. Barrett, Thomas T. Waterman, Edward W. Gifford, and Nels Nelson). The Museum's collections have grown from an initial nucleus of approximately 230,000 objects gathered under the patronage of Phoebe Hearst to an estimated 3.8 million items. The Museum was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1973, and re-accredited in 1990.

Museum Locations

The Museum was physically housed from 1903 to 1931 in San Francisco, where exhibits opened to the public in October, 1911. A key figure during these years was Ishi, a Yahi Indian who lived at the Museum from 1911 until his death in 1916 and worked with the anthropologists to document the ways of his people. When the Museum moved back to the Berkeley campus in 1931, there was no space for public exhibitions, and the Museum focused on research and teaching. With the construction of a new building housing the Museum and anthropology department in 1959, space for exhibition again became available. The building, which the Museum continues to occupy, was named Kroeber Hall, and the Museum was named in honor of Robert H. Lowie, a pioneer in the Berkeley anthropology department. In 1991, the Museum's name was changed to recognize the crucial role of Phoebe A. Hearst as founder and patron.