Remembering Lewis Henry Morgan in the Twentieth Century

Lewis Henry Morgan’s memory was kept alive in Rochester until the middle of the twentieth century through intermittent ceremonies held at his tomb and occasional newspaper articles reminding readers of his scientific accomplishments.  Yet Professor Herman Fairchild of the University of Rochester could correctly observe in 1915 that no permanent memorial had been created for Morgan by the City of Rochester.  The observation holds true in 2018 as well.  A public school located in Rochester’s 19th Ward that had been renamed for Morgan in 1917 closed in 2005. 

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Much of the effort to remember Morgan was due to Arthur C. Parker, who had a hand in three of the memorial events documented in this case.  Parker was an archaeologist and, like Morgan, a scholar of Haudenosaunee society and culture.  For many years he served as director of what is now the Rochester Museum & Science Center.  Parker was also the great-nephew of Morgan’s colleague and interpreter, the well-known Tonawanda Seneca sachem Ely S. Parker.  Because Morgan had been adopted into a Seneca clan, Arthur Parker, whose father was of Seneca descent, sometimes referred to Morgan as a kinsman. 

 The eclipse of Morgan’s memory in Rochester as the twentieth century approached its midpoint might be due in part to the association of Morgan’s work with socialist labor activism.  After the publication of by Friedrich Engels in 1884 of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan, Morgan’s book Ancient Society (1877) was widely read by socialists in the United States and internationally.  The anthropologist Leslie White, himself a member of the Socialist Labor Party, published extensively on Morgan and edited many of his unpublished papers at a time when Morgan’s work was heavily criticized within the discipline.  In 1928, the Proletarian Party held a memorial service at Morgan’s grave.  One of its members, Mrs. Isadore (Bertha) Tishler, donated her and her husband’s copy of Ancient Society to the University of Rochester.   

 In 1962, Morgan was remembered in an exhibit at the Rochester Museum & Science Center held in connection with a meeting of the New York State Archeological Association, the local chapter of which was named after Morgan in 1916.  In 1981, the centennial of Morgan’s death, the University of Rochester hosted an exhibit in its library department of Special Collections and Rare Books.  Morgan’s close relationship with the university had not been acknowledged until a wing of a women’s residence hall was named after him in the 1950s.  In 1963, the university’s department of anthropology and sociology launched the annual Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures, the most prominent and perhaps most fitting memorial to Morgan on campus today. 

Authored by: Robert J. Foster

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Click on the thumbnails below to learn more about the artifacts.