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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Arthur Cleveland Bent

Arthur Cleveland Bent was born on November 25, 1866, the son of William Henry Bent and Harriet Fellowes Hendee Bent. He was a lifelong resident of Taunton, Massachusetts, living as an adult diagonally across the street from his childhood home. After his mother passed away when he was only 6 years old, his father, seeing his frail son growing up, decided to start taking his son on nature walks to improve his health. Father and son would take long walks in the Taunton, as well as the neighboring towns of Rehobeth and Fall river. This is where Bent's passion for birds and nature began.

Bent was formally educated at the Bristol Academy as an adolescent and went on to attend Harvard College where he graduated, with honorable mention, a A.B. degree in 1889. From there he put his business degree to good use, working in banking before moving to positions in the cotton industry and as an executive in the utilities business. The height of his career came in 1892 when he and John Scott purchased the Plymouth Electric Light Company from General Electric for $87,500-in notes with company bonds as collateral. In the panic of 1893, the Electric Light Company defaulted on its bonds and went bankrupt. John Scott passed away, causing Bent to buy out his interest in the company and assume the debt. Bent persuaded the General Electric Company to let him work out the situation, which he did. Later, in his sixties, after the sale of Plymouth interests, Bent was able to live on the income he had remaining and devote his life to ornithology.

On October 23, 1895, Bent married Rosalba Peale Smith, daughter of Professor Clement L. Smith, a former Dean of Harvard College. After a few months, they moved from Plymouth to Taunton where Bent became super-intendant assistant and later General Manager of the Mason Machine Works. He moved to Seamless Picket Co. in connection with the Whittier Cotton Mills where he was able to reduce his work hours to one day a week. In 1911, childless, the couple divorced.

In 1914, Bent married Madeleine Vincent Godfrey, who survived him, as did three married daughters, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren. The Bents were known in Taunton as being very tight-knit, unified family.

Though Bent's business career was very successful, it was his ornithological interest which defined him. As his fascination grew as an undergraduate in college, Bent drew in close correspondence to professional and academic ornithologists throughout his life. He grew a personal collection of bird specimens of almost 3,500 skins which are now housed at the Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. As an oologist, he established an even more extensive collection of eggs, collecting over 30,000 which were later donated to the United States National Museum.

After many annual birding excursions Bent approached Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian Institution and offered to assume control of the Smithsonian series, Life Histories of North American Birds, after its founder, Charles Bendire, died in 1897. Beginning what he called his "life's work" in 1910, Bent published eighteen volumes on birds between 1919 and 1953. After passing away in 1954 a nineteenth volume appeared under Bent's name. Two more volumes were later added by Warren Taber, using many notes, photographs and outlines left in Bent's collection.

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