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Harry Schelwald Swarth

Harry Schelwald Swarth was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 26, 1878. Swarth was interested in natural history from an early age, thanks in large part to his close association with George Frean Morcom. In 1870, before Harry was born, George Frean Morcom settled in Chicago. During the great fire of 1871 that destroyed most of the city, George fled northward with Harry's parents, Corrinne and Auguste Swarth to a camp in the cemetery that later became Lincoln Park. From that point on they dwelt together. Over the years, two homes were occupied, both adjoining Lincoln Park, and in both the Swarth family lived with Morcom occupying the top floor. Morcom was building up his collections during this period and so eggs and birds occupied much of the space.

In 1891, the Swarth family moved to Los Angeles with Morcom and established a permanent residency on the western edge of town. There were mostly grain fields interspersed with rows of trees, empty houses and railroad tracks; an ideal place for creating a naturalist. Harry Swarth spent much of his time exploring the surroundings for birds. Harry went on a hunt for two hours each morning before breakfast and school. After school, he examined and skinned the specimens he had collected earlier in the day. This hands-on experience with birds provided Swarth with extensive knowledge for his later career. After gathering a nearly complete collection for the Los Angeles area, Swarth directed his attention elsewhere. In 1895, at Major Bendire's advice, Swarth went on an expedition, at 17 years of age, with O.W. Howard, W.B. Judson, and H.G. Rising, to the Huachuca Mountains in Arizona. They spent nearly 5 months in the field and was an unforgettable experience to Swarth, who told stories of this expedition throughout his later life.

By 1904 it was clear that ornithology would be Swarth's occupation. With Morcom's help, Swarth was offered an assistant position in the Department of Zoology in the Field Colombian Museum in Chicago. Although Swarth did get the opportunity to collect birds for the museum, he still wanted to move back to California. He was thrilled when, in 1908, Joseph Grinnell invited Swarth to join the staff of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in California. He began as Assistant Curator in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in Berkeley. In 1910, he became the Curator of Birds in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. From 1913-1916, Swarth held the position of Assistant Director of the Ornithology Department for the Museum of History, Science and Art in Los Angeles. Finally in 1927, Swarth became Curator of the Department of Mammalogy and Ornithology, the position which he held til his death.

Throughout Swarth's career he made long trips into the field in remote districts, worked with growing collections in the Museum, and handled and identified skins. Through these experiences, Swarth named over forty species. Swarth published extensively on birds and mammals, producing some two hundred published writings. He was also highly involved in the Cooper Ornithological Clubs and was associate Editor of The Condor for seventeen years. Harry Swarth passed away October 22, 1935 in Berkeley, California.

To learn more about Harry Schelwald Swarth, please visit: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1363599

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