William Fuller Fiske Papers, 1861-1917

Collection number: MC 312
Size: (2 boxes) (0.5 cu.ft.)

About William Fuller Fiske

William Fuller Fiske (1876-after 1941) was an entomologist who primarily studied gypsy moths and white pine weevils. He was born 20 March 1876 at Webster NH, the son and only surviving child of Jane Briggs Smith (1834-1925) and Friend Fuller Fiske (1828-1906). They were married in 1872. His mother taught freed African-Americans in South Carolina and Washington D.C. directly after the Civil War.

Professionally, Fiske worked for the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts during the 1890s, later going on to work for the Georgia State Entomologist and USDA and heading the Gypsy Moth Laboratory in Melrose MA. His travels took him throughout the United States, western Europe, and into Uganda studying sleeping sickness during the early part of the 20th century.

Family tradition holds that he disappeared into Africa and never returned. While his death cannot be found in public record, he lived at least until the age of 65. His arrival is noted on the passenger list for the ship Excambian at New York City from Lisbon Portugal on the 23rd of December, 1941. No information about any return to Africa after that date was located during processing.

About the Fiske Papers

The bulk of the collection is diary-like letters written to his mother Jane between 1896-1917. These describe in great detail his travels, people he met, conversations and descriptions of cities and towns, local mannerisms, aspirations, flora, fauna, and to a smaller degree his professional work. His writing interprets what he sees through a very pronounced upper-class white lens, including his descriptions of African-American life in the American South and Colonialist life in Uganda.

One of the most amusing letters from Fiske's time teaching in Durham, dated May 4, 1898, is quoted in part below. It describes activites on the Durham campus celebrating the winning of the Battle of Manila (Spanish-American War) and was written to Jane Smith Fiske (Box 1 Folder 1):

My Dear Mother, I am not feeling very much like work just now, so I am going to take ‘till the clock strikes to write to you a full & fair account of the war in Durham last night. As you may possibly have heard by this time, Dewy is supposed to have won a brilliant battle in the bay of Manilla [sic] against the combined guns of the Spanish fleet and the batteries on shore. The news is not at the present moment (6.30 PM) confirmed by official reports, the cable being cut just as the bombardment of manila had begun. This being thus the student body of the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic arts – I said I would tell you the matter just as it happened, fully & [illegible] – conceived the brilliant idea of having a celebration. Thereupon they did. [...]

It began this way. The Z.E.Z.’s [Zeta Epsilon Zeta fraternity], broke up their meeting rather earlier than usual and one of their members who is a most excellent performer upon the snare drum went after his instrument, and a couple of others went after the big bass drum of the old village band. Then they formed a military figure called a “column of four” and started on a round of the dormitories. This sort of thing was irresistible and the first time round they caught every student in the tavern.

This was about nine o’clock. Every torch that had ever done duty in a campaign parade was hunted up, the band was reinforced with a couple of cornets and a pipe and dinner horns ad libitum to do the heavy work and come in in the chorus.

Then they started on a tour of the town. At the door of each and every Professor the company halted, faced about in double rank, gave three cheers for the navy, then three cheers for the Prof., and finally called on him for a speech. He usually responded. If not he was given a choice musical selection by the band and if this failed to stir his hard heart the procession moved on. In the course of events the church was encountered and a man was quickly detached to ring the bell, which he did with a good will to the accompaniment of the band, horns, and quantities of fire crackers which appeared in some miraculous manner from no one seemed to know where.

On coming in front of Witcher’s Block where a flag of large size was suspended across the street the order to halt was given and a number of patriotic songs were sung with a will. Half the town had gathered by this time, and after the singing speeches were called for from towns people, many of which responded. And the clock struck ten. This part of the program which comprised the first act of the process for painting the town red, being successfully executed the student body gave its individual attention to Act II and again formed ranks and proceeded to march to the campus.

Passing by the main building [Thompson Hall] on the way it occurred to them that the college bell had not been sounded, which omission was speedily remedied. Arrived at the campus the company disranked and went for a woodpile which was on the extreme edge of it. Each man shouldered a few sticks and back they marched to a knoll near the building. Other men were detached to procure kerosene, and still others departed for a wagon while the greater part of the gang light into a pile of dry fence boards a little way off. The wagon was obtained and loaded with large split wood from the pile and a second load was called for. A five gallon can of kerosene was procured and Whicher donated another holding ten gallons. The split wood was piled up cob house fashion to a height of a dozen ft. or so and propped up with old fence rails: the interior was filled with broken boards. Then the kerosene was poured over the whole and at the touch of the torches off she went. And the clock struck eleven.

How it burned, and lighted up the surrounding country with a glare as bright as day. Then all joined hands and formed a ring about it singing and dancing to the accompaniment of the band. It was a pretty scene and every student in the town but two were out. Abe had a toothache – poor fellow, and they did not know where the other was. Then the assembly settled down to a more quiet scene but none the less amusing for all that. A Committee, self appointed drew the wagon which had been used to haul the wood, to a convenient situation and then passed round back of the crowd which was reclining at its ease. Suddenly pouncing one and unsuspecting and innocent man they would carry him [sic] body to the wagon, often in anything but a graceful posture and dump him in to it and he had to stay in it until he made a speech. Many and varied were the remarks made from that exalted station. Some of the speeches were really good, some were irresistibly laugh inspiring from their very grotesqueness. No one knew when it would be his turn, or if his turn would come at all and many comical scenes were enacted.

The clock struck twelve. I forgot to tell you that some of the faculty, or at least one of the faculty who has a good deal of influence but at the same time is far from popular came up to the building and ordered the bell to cease ringing. His commands were of course complied with. After the speeches the company again formed started for a [illegible] of the professors which he had appeared to be absent from home. [...]

Last of all the cavalcade came opposite the home of the member of the Faculty who had stopped the bell ringing. It [the group] had been playing Rally Round The Flag at the moment before but all at once it stopped the order for short step and very slowly marched by the house the drum playing in the most solemn manner an accompaniment to a single pipe which squeaked out the tune of “O What A Funny Thing.” When the last men was by a quick step was again struck up and the full band burst into Yankee Doodle.

Then they all went home. And the clock struck one. And then went to bed.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

This collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Contents of this collection are governed by U.S. copyright law. For questions about publication or reproduction rights, contact Special Collections staff.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], [Folder Number], [Box Number], William Fuller Fiske Papers, 1861-1917, MC 312, Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire Library, Durham, NH, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Gift of Jean M. Harrington, 1996

Jane Briggs Smith Fiske Papers, 1806-1923 at the American Antiquarian Society

Separated Material

This collection was separated from Jane Smith Fiske's papers which were donated to the American Antiquarian Society.

Collection Arrangement

Arrangment is chronological.

Collection Contents

Box 1
Box 1, Folder 1WF to Mother, May 1898-March 1901

Notes on the Bible (pos. Isaiah); Letter from his mother discussing visit to her and his sister to see a lyceum in New London (N.H.); Battle of Manila Bay (Spanish American War); Zeta Epsilon Zeta fraternity pageant description celebrating the battle; train travel in NH; women students; dining/food; hiking/flora of the White Mountains; teaching zoology; spearing starfish in Portsmouth to use for classes; teaching classes for men and women; Travel to Atlanta Georgia teaching post and descriptions of the people and places he encountered on the way.

Box 1, Folder 2WF to Mother, April 1901-June 1901

Work for Georgia State Department of Entomology around Fort Valley GA; Peach orchard inspections; Insect collecting; Race relations and social conditions in the South; Plant import/export between states; Poverty; Extreme heat; American Association of Horticultural Inspectors; Travel and trains.

Box 1, Folder 3WF to Mother July 1901-August 1901

American Association of Economic Entomologists paper; Work; Travel; African-American children; Cuisine; Whites giving land to freed African-Americans; Politics.

Box 1, Folder 4WF to Mother September 1901-September 1902

Traveling and travel plans; Humorous anecdotes; Assassination of Pres. William McKinley; Persimmon crop; Lynching; Train accident caused by exploding fertilizer cars; House fires; Weighing cotton and cotton gins; Traveling salesmen; Maps of his travels.

Box 1, Folder 5WF to Mother October 1902-December 1902

Traveling; Descriptions of towns and cities; Maps and mileages; Descriptions of Southern white poverty; Legislation about tree importation and transportation; Burning a chair he did not like; Hit by a rock thrown through a train window; Weather abnormalities including the “dark day” or Leonid meteor shower of 1833 and “yellow day” or great freeze of Feb. 22 1899 (part of the Great Blizzard of 1899); Holiday celebrations in Atlanta GA; Starting a state entomology program in New Hampshire; Visiting with New Hampshire professors in Washington.

Box 1, Folder 6WF to Mother January 1903-September 1903

Orchard inspection and spraying; Venezuelan Crisis of 1902; American national politics; Georgia state politics; Trip to Alabama for the Alabama State Horticultural Society and to testify before the legislature about a entomological inspection bill; Writing articles for the New Hampshire Experimental Station; Botanical descriptions; Georgia lumber industry descriptions; Arrival in Washington. “Special agent, US Department of Agriculture, Forest-Insect Investigations.”

Box 1, Folder 7WF to Mother October 1903-February 1905

Travel from Boston to Philadelphia; Halloween celebrations in Washington D.C., Street fairs in Hendersonville N.C.; Atlanta G.A.; Civil Rights (W.F. was against them); US seizure of land in Panama for the building of the Panama Canal; Preparing an exhibit on forest insects for the St. Louis Exhibition; Living paycheck to paycheck; Supporting his parents; Russo-Japanese War and the surrender of Port Arthur; White Pine weevil (WF as authority); Collecting and describing weevils for the Smithsonian Natural History museum.

Box 1, Folder 8WF to Mother February 1905-October 1905

Travels through Tennessee; Travel mishaps; Description of Baltimore; Ponders starting an entomology school; Collecting trips in the Blue Ridge Mountains; Work at the Department of Agriculture’s Arlington Farm in Virginia; Trip to Texas; People/Culture in Texas; Trip to New Orleans/people and culture.

Box 1, Folder 9WF to Mother November 1905-September 1908

Turning field notes into published articles; Work in Boston; Travels collecting in Georgia and northern Florida; Michigan; Hiking in New Mexico; Shipments of insects to be cataloged at his office in Boston; Travels in Ireland, London, Paris, greater France.

Box 1, Folder 10WF to Mother September 1908-November 1911

Extensive accounts of his travels collecting and documenting insects, mostly in France but also some in Germany and England, nearly daily accounts during 1911. Between October 1910 and November 1911 there are no letters; WF returned home to the United States sometime during that period as the Nov. 1911 letter is from New York.

Box 2
Box 2, Folder 1WF to Mother December 1911-January 1914

Descriptions of his travels, starting in London once again in December 1911, then going on to Italy (Naples, Rome, etc.) throughout 1912, and then to Uganda by steamship by Oct. 1912. By March 1913 WF was on board the S.S. Arabic bound for London, which he reached by April of that year. By November 1913 he was back in Uganda collecting insects on Entebbe Island in Lake Victoria and in the surrounding countryside.

Box 2, Folder 2WF to Mother, January 1914-April 1917

After a year’s break, the letters pick up again in Uganda as WF begins his homeward journey up the Nile towards Cairo. World War 1 is in progress and there is some concern about the safety of the rails and whether they will be cut. WF has had no letters for several months from the outside, and only recently received newspapers from Nairobi, Kenya. In October of 1914 he describes a fight with German troops in Uganda. There is one envelope addressed to WF in Entebbe dated September 1915, which contained newspaper clippings of published versions of the letters he sent home. He was still in Uganda in February 1916, writing from Cairo Egypt a month later. By November 1916 WF was back in Boston commenting on elections, where he remained when his last letter of April 1917 was sent.

Box 2, Folder 3WF to Mother September 1902-April 1909: Gypsy Moths

These letters were written from the “Gipsy Moth Parasite Laboratory, Melrose Highlands, Mass.” where WF was director. They describe entomological politics, receiving specimens from Japan, learning to prepare insects for study, and professional promotions. This folder contains one letter to WF’s father as well.

Box 2, Folder 4Letters to/from Other Family and Friends, 1861-1892

This folder contains letters between members of WF’s parents’ generation, specifically his mother Jane B. (Smith) Fiske before and shortly after her marriage, and various cousins and friends. There are also 2-3 letters from Jane to her own mother. Topics include family doings, courtship, health, and travel.

Box 2, Folder 5Letter by WF, May 1905

A 37 page letter written at Tent in the Clouds, Pisgah Ridge, N.C., May 25 1905. It appears to describe a trip WF took hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and gives a detailed account of flora and fauna and routes encountered along the way.

Box 2, Folder 6Ephemera, 1896 and undated

An undated studio photograph of WF taken in Concord N.H., a series of photographs of Potsdam Germany, a broadside poem celebrating his parent’s 15th wedding anniversary, and a postcard written to WF in 1896.

Box 2, Folder 7Entomology Notebook, 1896-1944

Small notebook containing listings of all the insects WF saw and the date upon which he saw them. Organized by genus and species and with month/day and the very occasional year listing for the very rare species

Box 2, Folder 8USDA Correspondence, 1911

Letters of introduction and job appointments for WF from the USDA. These indicate that he studied gypsy moths, brown-tail moths, and parasites of the alfalfa weevil during this time. There is also a letter of introduction from the American Embassy in Rome allowing Fiske to study various forest insects in the Italian countryside. There are no papers related to his later study of sleeping sickness in Uganda.



Letters & Postcards
Manuscripts & Typescripts