George Amos Dorsey

National Cyclopedia of American Biography

DORSEY, George Amos, anthropologist, was born at Hebron, Ohio, Feb. 6, 1868, son of Edwin Jackson and Mary Elma (Grove) Dorsey. His father was a schoolmaster, farmer and merchant. He was graduated Α.Β. at both Denison (1888) and Harvard (1890) universities, and began his scientific career by making archaeological explorations in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia as honorary commissioner for the World's Columbian exposition, for which he also served as superintendent of archaeology in the department of anthropology. He spent three years at Harvard (1894-96) as assistant and instructor in anthropology, receiving his Ph.D. degree in anthropology in 1894 and returned to Chicago in 1896 as assistant curator of anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History, of which he was chief curator during 1897-1915. He was also in that period professor of comparative anatomy at the Northwestern University dental school, 1898-1913, and successively assistant and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, 1908-15. Beginning in 1896 Dorsey conducted a succession of investigations in the ethnology of many North American Indian tribes which included field work for the department of anthropology of the Louisiana Purchase exposition of 1904. At the exposition he had charge of the native habitation displays of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Wichita and Osage tribes, and was a member of the jury of awards. In 1908 his anthropological researches for the Field museum took him to Europe, India, the Orient, Australia, the Philippines and the South Sea Islands, and he was a member of the first exploring party to cross Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon group. As a member of the editorial staff and foreign correspondent of the Chicago "Tribune" in 1909-12, he investigated the sources of American immigration in Italy, Austria, Hungary, Roumania, Serbia and Bulgaria, and made a study of the political and social conditions in India, China, Japan, Australia and South Africa. During the World war period he was assistant naval attaché at the Madrid embassy in 1918, as a lieutenant in the U. S. naval reserve, and in 1919 assisted at the peace conference in Paris as adviser on Spanish problems to the American commission. He then served as naval attaché at Lisbon, with the rank of lieutenant commander, until 1921, and in the next year was correspondent for the London "Evening News" in New York. Thereafter, his time was given over entirely to lecturing and literary work. Nearly a hundred papers on anthropology, archaeology and ethnology, treating in particular the traditions and mythology of the Pawnee, Wichita, Ankara and Caddo tribes and the dance ceremonials of the Arapaho, Ponca, Cheyenne and Hopi tribes, had come from his pen, most of which were published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. These papers, addressed to the special student, were to disseminate in a comprehensive form the knowledge acquired by research. Believing that the final validity of knowledge was its capacity to add to the richness of life, Dorsey undertook the writing of his first book, ''Why We Behave Like Human Beings" (1925), for popular consumption, and so lucidly were the most abstract findings of science presented, so trenchant was the style, that its success was immediate. It was followed by "Nature of Man" (1927), to some extent a condensation of the former book; "The Evolution of Charles Darwin" (1927), a sympathetic study of the great naturalist; "Young Low" (1927), a reprint of his only work of fiction, originally published in 1917; "Hows and Whys of Human Behavior" (1929), a collection of magazine articles dealing with everyday problems of living; and "Man's Own Show: Civilization" (1931), published posthumously, which was a continuation of "Why We Behave Like Human Beings" and was regarded by Dorsey as his most important summary of man's place in nature. He also wrote the chapter on 'Race and Civilization" in "Whither Mankind?" He pursued his aim of humanizing knowledge by lecturing at the New School for Social Research in New York, of which he was a director, and at various public gatherings. What made his writings and lectures alike absorbing—apart from his gift for cogent expression—was his sympathy with mankind, for despite his learning he remained an unaffected, gay human be-

( 201) -ing, with an undiminishing appetite for life. In 1929 he was a delegate of the American Anthropological Association at the 4th Pacific science congress held in Batavia, Java, and represented the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the British Association's meetings in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. Prof. Dorsey was also a member of the American Folk-Lore Society (president, 1903), American Society of Naturalists, American Association of Museums, Anatomical Society of America, Chicago Geographical Society (president, 1908-09), American Numismatic and Antiquarian Society, the Anthropological societies of Stockholm, Paris and Berlin, Societé des Americanistes de Paris, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain (fellow) and of the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi scholarship societies. The honorary LL.D. degree was conferred by Denison University in 1909 and he was commander in the Spanish military orders of Aviz and Santiago (1920). Prof. Dorsey was twice married: (1), Dec. 8, 1892, to Ida, daughter of E. N. Chadsey, of Cherokee, Kans., by whom he had two children, Dorothy, wife of Marston Cummings, of Piedmont, Calif., and George Chadsey Dorsey; and (2), Feb. 14, 1924, to Sue, daughter of Alexander McLellan, of Glasgow, Scotland. He died in New York city, Mar. 29, 1931.


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