Frederick Starr

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For the contemporary American academic and musician, see S. Frederick Starr.
Frederick Starr in 1909.

Frederick Starr (September 2, 1858 – August 14, 1933), aka Ofuda Hakushi in Japan,[1] was an American academic, anthropologist, and "populist educator"[2] born at Auburn, New York.


Starr earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester (1882) and a doctorate in geology at Lafayette College (1885). While working as a curator of geology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), he became interested in anthropology and ethnology; and Frederic Ward Putnam helped him become appointed as curator of AMNH's ethological collection.[2]

In this period, he became active in the Chautauqua circuit as a popular professor and, in 1888-89, as registrar. When William Rainey Harper, president of the Chautauqua Institution was named President of the University of Chicago, he appointed Starr as an assistant professor of anthropology.[2]

Starr was the curator in charge of ethnological subjects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (1889–91), until he accepted a faculty position at the University of Chicago where he remained for the next 31 years.[3] He was an Assistant professor (1892–95), and he gained tenure the next year.[2]

One of Starr's most infamous incidents occurred while traveling in Mexico. Much like Lumholtz, Starr traveled to the P'urhepecha community of Cheran, located in the Meseta P'urhepecha in the state of Michoacan. Unlike his predecessor, Starr successfully obtained Amerindian bones, said to have been dug up in a nearby ancient burial, which he planned to take back with him to the U.S. It is worth noting that the inhabitants of Cheran were hostile to the idea of having their cemeteries exhumed and remained cautious of Starr's motivation for visiting Cheran In 1905-06 he made a careful study of the pygmy races of Central Africa, and made investigations in the Philippine Islands in 1908, in Japan in 1909-10, and in Korea in 1911.

In his collection of articles regarding the Congo Free State, 'Truth about the Congo Free State', Starr wrote:

Many a time... I have seen a man immediately after being flogged, laughing and playing with his companions as if naught had happened. Personally, though I have seen many cases of this form of punishment, I have never seen blood drawn, nor the fainting of the victim."[4]

This is often cited as an example of the whitewashing campaign King Leopold II fared from 1884 to 1912, also known as the Congo Free State Propaganda War, as floggings with the chicotte were known and documented as an especially cruel form of torture.[5]

Starr happened to be in Japan when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 struck the main island of Honshū. In the absence of news from the devastated area, speculation about his safety was published in the New York Times. His plans to spend several months researching the vicinity of Mt. Fuji were not specific, nor was the extent of the quake area known. Reports that the area near Mt. Fuji were hard hit led to increased concerns.[6] Worries were allayed when Dr. Starr's name was published amongst the list of survivors which was prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.[7] As chance would have it, Dr. Starr happened to be in Tokyo on September 1, 1923, when the earthquake struck; and he escaped to the relative safety of Zojo-ji, a famous Buddhist Temple in Tokyo's Shiba district in what is today Minato ward. A brief description from a letter to friends in Auburn, New York, was printed in the Times:

We went to the temple grounds, but at midnight, the priests took us up higher and higher to the innermost temple. Here on the topmost step, I sat till morning, watching the brazen sky beyond the slope meaning ruin to millions."[8]

Dr. Starr died of bronchial pneumonia at age 74 in Tokyo, August 14, 1933. Services were held at Trinity Cathedral in Tokyo. Amongst those attending was Japanese Premier Makoto Saito.[9]


  • University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology, Starr Lectureship.[10]

Selected works[edit]



External links[edit]