The University of North Carolina Herbarium has
catalogued about a dozen specimens – all ferns & fern allies – collected
by Elsie G. Whitney. As cataloguing
continues it is likely that more will be found not only in NCU but also in
collections across North America. Other herbaria curating Elsie G. Whitney’s specimens
include Drexel University (PH), Butler University (BUT), Kent State
University (KE), Missouri Botanical Garden (MO), Morris Arboretum, University
of Pennsylvania (MOAR), Morton Arboretum (MOR), Muhlenberg College (MCA), New
York Botanical Garden (NY), Rutgers University (CHRB), Tulane University
(NO), Botanical Research Institute of Texas (NLU), University of Connecticut
(CONN), United States National Herbarium (US) and New York State Museum
Elsie Julia Gibson was born
15 March 1885 in Vermont to Albert Milan Gibson (b. Ryegate,
Caledonia, Vermont 24 May 1849; died in Mt. Sunapee, Merrimack, New Hampshire
24 March 1918) and Etta Ruth Brown (b. Ryegate,
Caledonia, Vermont 3 July 1856; d. in Haverhill, Grafton, New Hampshire 9
November 1933). Elsie’s siblings were
Ralph George Gibson (1877 – 1938), Albert Wooster Gibson (1880 -- 1954), John
Scott Gibson (1882 – 1961), Sarah Elizabeth Gibson (1886 – 1949), Anna Laurene Gibson (1891 – 1979).1
Elsie Gibson married Alvin Goodnow Whitney on July 28, 1912 in Washington, D.C.
Alvin Whitney (2 March 1883 – 19 June 1960) was born in Hamilton, Ontario,
Canada, educated at Dartmouth College, and became the Assistant Director of
the New York State Museum.1
Elsie graduated with an
A.B. from Syracuse University, and earned her M.A. in Botany at the
University of Michigan in 1929.
Within three months of
their marriage, Elsie and Alvin moved to St. Paul Island, one of the Pribilof
Islands of Alaska. They were employed
by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and took part in a biological survey of the
Islands. W. L. McAtee
of the Bureau of Biological Survey notes, “The material upon which the
present report is based was collected by Alvin G. and Elsie G. Whitney from
October, 1912 to July, 1914, and by G. Dallas Hanna in 1914, 1915, 1916, and
1917. The collectors were employed on
the Pribilof Islands during these years by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries and
thanks are due to the Chief of that Bureau for turning over their collections
of invertebrates to the Biological Survey… All type specimens mentioned in
the following reports as well as the bulk of the remaining material will be
deposited in the U.S. National Museum.”2
During their stay on St.
Paul Island, the Whitneys were the whistle-blowers
in a scandal involving U.S. Government employees and the native people on the
island. (See below for text of “Pribilof
Orgies Stir Federal Anger” published by The New York Times in 1914.)3
In 1928 the Whitneys moved to Albany, New York, where they both
worked at the New York State Museum, Alvin as Assistant Director of the
Museum and Elsie as the Asst. State Botanist. Elsie G. Whitney served as the Secretary
for the American Fern Society during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Elsie Whitney died on 16
April, 1970. She and Alvin are buried
in Blue Mountain Cemetery in Ryegate Corner,
Caledonia County, Vermont.4
21 July, 1914. The New York Times.
Pribilof Orgies Stir
Federal Anger: Debauchery of Women
Included in Shocking Charges Affecting Government Employes
[sic]. GIVE ALCOHOL TO NATIVES. Diary of Government Teacher Makes Charges
of Immorality – Employes Practically
Prisoners. Special to The New York Times.
WASHINGTON, July 20. Secretary
Redfield of the Department of Commerce has submitted all the original
complaints in the Pribilof Islands scandal to Attorney General McReynolds for
action. The papers include the formal
accusations made against various Government agents on the islands by Mr. and Mrs.
Alvin G. Whitney, Government school teachers on St. Paul Island, one of the
Pribilof group. The Whitneys charge gross immorality, seduction of the native
women by Government agents, flagrant law violation in furnishing intoxicating
liquors to the natives, and illegal killing of fur seal pups.
Since July 6 Deputy
Commissioner E. Lester Jones of the United States Bureau of Fisheries has
been on St. Paul Island making an investigation of the case under directions
from Secretary Redfield. Four
Government vessels, the revenue cutters Tahoma
and McCulloch, the cruiser Buffalo of the navy, and the steamship
Albatross of the Fish Commission,
are being employed in connection with the investigation.
The five Government agents
against whom charges have been brought technically are prisoners on St. Paul
Island. While investigation continues
orders have been given to permit no one to leave the islands.
Four executive departments
of the Government are co-operating in the investigation of the scandal. The chief investigation is being made under
the auspices of the Department of Commerce by Deputy Commissioner Jones, who
is assisted by E.M. Ball. Federal
inspector of Fisheries, and H.C. Hassatt, who
represents the Fisheries Service on St. Paul Island. The Department of Justice has been asked to
look after the criminal prosecutions which it is expected will follow the
investigation. The Navy Department,
through Secretary Daniels, has assured Secretary Redfield that steps have
been taken to investigate the charges against P.L. McClenny,
the navy radio operator on St. Paul Island, one of the officials against whom
charges have been made.
Daniels Will Remove Operator.
Secretary Daniels has
decided to replace McClenny with another naval
radio operator and will assign a man of family to the post. The Treasury Department, through the Chief
of Revenue Cutter Service, has instructed Capt. Reynolds of the Alaskan fur
seal patrol service to refuse transportation to any one from the Pribilof
Islands while the investigation continues.
The original complaint against
Agent P.R.E. Hatton, L.N. Tongue, the storekeeper, McClenny,
and others was made on May 1 by Mr. and Mrs. Whitney to F.M. Chamberlain,
Naturalist in the Fisheries Service, and was forwarded to the Department of
and other vices,” says the Whitney complaint, “have been rampant in the
community under the drunken leadership of Hatton and Tongue. These men, who at once assumed authority
upon your departure from the island, have so conducted affairs as to make the
station an impossible place for decent white men to live, to say nothing of
white women, who are in constant peril.
“The station work is
disorganized and neglected, and the native community further demoralized and
increasingly unruly. As a basis for my
charges of gross immorality on the part of Government officials and its
pernicious effect upon the native community I offer the following facts which
were recorded daily as they happened by school teachers and physicians.”
Alcohol and Waters for Natives.
Mr. Whitney in his
complaint then gives in the form of a narrative from a diary a shocking
account of conditions on the island.
The diary covers events from July, 1913 to May 17, 1914. Some of the entries in this diary, which
forms part of the formal complaint against the Government agents on the
island, are as follows:
July and August, 1913. – From the time that Mr. Hatton came to St. Paul
Island from St. George Island (July 28) to take up his duties as agent and
caretaker a strong mixture of alcohol and water was passed out to the natives
at every opportunity until the stock of alcohol was practically
consumed. Hatton and Tongue took
direct charge of this during the time the natives were landing cargo from the
supply ship and gave out this drink twice a day regularly. The alcohol thus used was requisitioned for
Aug. 12, 1913. – Hatton,
Tongue, and Dr. McGovern went out to the revenue cutter Manning in the evening in a launch and gambled with the Captain
and other officers until 6 A.M., when the ship was on the point of getting
under way. The native crew was compelled to stay at the ship and wait all
Aug. 19 to 22, 1913. – The
yacht Adventuress arrived Aug. 19
with Roy C. Andrews and the yachting and hunting party he accompanied. Hatton, Tongue, and Dr. McGovern spent
practically all their time during three days entertaining the party on shore
or visiting on board the yacht. Their
entertainment was invariably gambling and drinking day and night. During this interval Mr. Andrews and I were
occupying our time with photographic work.
Aug. 22, 1913. – When Mr.
Andrews and Mr. Hatton went out to the yacht in the evening to bring the
former’s outfit ashore the native engineer was so drunk as to be useless and
came near sinking the launch. The
weather was stormy and dark and the sea rough. The delay of the party in returning caused
great apprehension on shore and finally a rescuing party prepared to set out. At this juncture Dr. McGovern who was drunk
got into a quarrel with the native boatman and ended up in a fist fight with
the Russian priest.
Sept. 3, 1913. – A native
woman was carousing with Dr. McGovern at the dispensary all night. At 1:30 A.M. he came to the company house
and got more liquor.
Sept. 30, 1913. – A dance
was held at night at the native shop.
Several natives were drunk there.
Oct. 1, 1913. -- In conversation with Dr. McGovern he
declared that Hope, chief of the Naval Radio Station, habitually had Auzenia Diakanof, a native
girl, at the station for immoral purposes, that her mother had complained to
Hope about the matter, and he had there upon promised to marry her. Dr. McGovern also asserted that one day
recently he went to the Radio Station and found Hope and is paramour drinking
in the operating room.
Oct. 19, 1913. – At 3 P.M.,
occurred the celebration of the marriage of C. H. Hope, in charge of the
Radio Station at St. Paul Island, to Auzenia Diakanof, a young native woman, according to the rites of
the Russian Church.
Nov. 23 to 29, 1913. – This
was foxing week when most of the native men were away from the village
trapping. The white men embraced this
opportunity to seduce native women, as I afterward learned. When the hunters returned at the end of the
week there was a grand celebration, practically the whole community being
Threats for Native Men.
These are only a few of the
entries in the diary that forms part of the complaint against the Government
agents on the island. The diary tells
of the alleged relationship of the Government agents with the wives of
natives, designating them by name, and it is alleged that when husbands of
the native women complained, threat of deportation and other punishment were
made if they did not remain silent.
Attached to the complaint are affidavits from some of the native
After Mr. and Mrs. Whitney
had forwarded their original report, Hatton on June 2 telegraphed his
resignation to the Government. At the
same time Dr. Henry Esmond, a physician in the Federal Fisheries Service on
the island, resigned. Mr. Whitney
learned of this and he at one sent this radio message to Secretary
Redfield: Earnestly request immediate
inquiry into existing conditions on St. Paul Island on account several employes preparing to leave. I request that all island officials be held
Deputy Commissioner Jones
happened to be in Alaskan waters making an investigation of the halibut
industry. He was instructed on June 11
to proceed immediately in the Albatross
to the Pribilof Islands to investigate the scandal. This telegram was sent to Whitney: Do not allow any employee to leave pending
On June 12 the resignations
were refused and this radio message was sent to Hatton: Hatton.
St. Paul Island. Alaska, (wireless via North Head, Wash.): Your resignation not accepted pending
investigation by Deputy Commissioner Jones, due at islands about July
17. Do not leave prior to his arrival
or allow any employee to do so. SMITH,
Commissioner of Fisheries.
After the arrival of Deputy
Commissioner Jones, Secretary Redfield two weeks ago informed Dr. Hugh M.
Smith, the Federal Commissioner of Fisheries, that
the entire force on the islands would have to be removed. In a communication to Dr. Smith, Secretary
Redfield said: “Take any course within the law which will put an end to what
seems to be the shocking conditions upon the islands.”
1. http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/b/r/u/Barbara-J-Bruce/PDFGENE6.pdf accessed on 9 November 2011.
2. http://www.fwspubs.org/doi/pdf/10.3996/nafa.46.0002 McAtee, W. L. (1923 ) Biological
Survey of the Pribilof Islands, Alaska.
Part II. Insects, Arachnids, and Chilopods
of Pribilof Islands, Alaska. IN North
American Fauna #46. Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office.
3. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F60915FC3F5412738DDDA80A94DF405B848DF1D3 accessed on 9 November 2011.
4. Elsie Gibson Whitney. Find A Grave Memorial ID #121725317. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/121725317
accessed on 8 May, 2019.