Frank Speck

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Frank Speck
Born November 8, 1881
Died February 6, 1950
Nationality United States
Fields anthropology
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania.
Known for Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples
Influences Franz Boas

Frank Gouldsmith Speck (November 8, 1881 – February 6, 1950) was an American anthropologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples among the Eastern Woodland Native Americans of the United States and First Nations peoples of eastern boreal Canada.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, Speck was sickly as a child. His parents sent him at age seven to live with a family friend, Fidelia Fielding, in Mohegan, Connecticut in hopes that the rural environment would improve his health. She was a widow and Native American, the last speaker of her Indigenous, Mohegan Pequot language. While living with her, Speck acquired "his interests in literature, natural history and Native American linguistics."[1]

When Speck became one of the first students of anthropologist Franz Boas at Columbia University, he found his direction for life study as an anthropological ethnographer while earning an M.A with a thesis on the folklore the Native American peoples of the Southeastern United States.[2] He then completed a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (1908). While his doctorate was technically awarded by the University of Pennsylvania, his dissertation was supervised by Boas. It is an ethnography of the Yuchi people of Oklahoma, among whom he studied in 1904, 1905, and 1908.[3][4]


In 1907 Speck joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), first on a one-year fellowship. The fellowship was next held in 1908 by his colleague Edward Sapir.

Speck was unique among many anthropologists of his generation in choosing to study American Indians rather than people of more distant lands. Because of the changes that had taken place in the 19th century and drastic declines in population, Speck found his work was in part a "salvage operation" to try to capture ethnological material at a time of great stress for the peoples. He started studying Native Americans in Connecticut and the Northeast.[5]

At Penn, Speck advanced to full professor and became chair of the Department of Anthropology, after its creation by the University. Among his students at Penn, Speck nurtured a generation of prominent anthropologists: A. Irving Hallowell, Anthony F. C. Wallace, Loren Eiseley, and James W. VanStone. He especially loved fieldwork and lived with the people he studied. He donated to museums many of the artifacts of material culture which he collected over the years. Speck also sponsored Native American students at Penn such as Molly Spotted Elk and Gladys Tantaquidgeon.[6]

During his fieldwork with the Iroquois, Speck became close to members of the Seneca Nation, who adopted him in honor of their relationship. He was given the name Gahehdagowa ('Great Porcupine') when he was adopted into the Turtle clan of the Seneca people. Speck was interested in how family and kinship systems underlay tribal organization. In Canada, he developed maps of individual family bands' hunting territories to document Algonquian land rights. These later became crucial to Native American land claims.[7]

From the 1920s through the 1940s, Speck also studied the Cherokee in the Southeast United States and Oklahoma. Through the years, he worked extensively with tribal elder Will West Long of Big Cove, western North Carolina. Speck credited Long as co-author of his book Cherokee Dance and Drama, along with his colleague Leonard Bloom. It was published in 1951.[8]

Speck's papers were collected and archived by the American Philosophical Society, of which he was a member.[9] There are also collections of his papers at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec and at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.[10]

Speck was elected to numerous professional associations, where he took an active role on committees, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Anthropological Association, American Ethnological Society, Geographical Society of Philadelphia, and Archaeological Society of North Carolina (honorary). He conducted work for the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.[11]


  • The study of the Delaware Indian big house ceremony (1931) Harrisburg : Pennsylvania Historical Commission[12]
  • An Outline of Seneca ceremonies at Coldspring Longhouse (1936) Yale University dissertation
  • Contacts between Iroquois herbalism and colonial medicine (1941) ISBN 0-8466-4032-5
  • The Tutelo spirit adoption ceremony (1942) Harrisburg : Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Public Instruction, Pennsylvania Historical Commission[13]
  • "Songs from the Iroquois longhouse" Program notes for an album of American Indian music from the eastern woodlands, (1942) Washington, DC: Library of Congress
  • The Roll Call of the Iroquois Chiefs (1950) ISBN 0-404-15536-7
  • Symposium on local diversity in Iroquois culture Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1951
  • The Iroquois Eagle Dance: an offshoot of the Calumet Dance (1953) ISBN 0-8156-2533-2
  • The False Faces of the Iroquois (1987) ISBN 0-8061-2039-8
  • The Great Law and the Longhouse: a political history of the Iroquois (1998) ISBN 0-585-19883-7
  • The Little Water Medicine Society of the Senecas (2002) ISBN 0-8061-3447-X


  1. ^ "Frank Gouldsmith Speck Papers: Biographical Note", University of Pennsylvania Archives, accessed 17 Feb 2009
  2. ^ "Frank Gouldsmith Speck Papers: Biographical Note", University of Pennsylvania Archives, accessed 17 Feb 2009
  3. ^ Jason Baird Jackson. 2004. Introduction. In Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, v-xvi. Bison Books Edition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  4. ^ Frank G. Speck 1909. Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians. Philadelphia: The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. ^ "Frank G. Speck Papers, 1903-1950", American Philosophical Society Website, accessed 16 Feb 2009
  6. ^ Bunny McBride. Molly Spotted Elk: Penobscot in Paris (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995) p. 57-63
  7. ^ Frank Speck, "The Family Hunting Band as the Basis of Algonquian Social Organization", Cultural Ecology', ed. by Bruce Cox (1973); Naskapi (1935, reprint 1977)
  8. ^ "Frank Gouldsmith Speck: Cherokee Collection", American Philosophical Society, accessed 17 Feb 2009
  9. ^ "Frank G. Speck Papers, 1903-1950", American Philosophical Society Website, accessed 16 Feb 2009. See also Anthony F.C. Wallace, The Value of the Speck Papers for Ethnohistory," in 'The American Indian: A conference in the American Philosophical Society', American Philosophical Society Library Publication, No. 2 (Philadelphia, 1968), 20-26.
  10. ^ "Frank G. Speck's Contributions to the Understanding of Mi'kmaq Land Use, Leadership, and Land Management," 'Ethnohistory' 46:3 (summer 1999): 485.
  11. ^ "Frank G. Speck Papers, 1903-1950", American Philosophical Society Website, accessed 16 Feb 2009
  12. ^ Speck, Frank Gouldsmith; Witapanóxwe (1931). The study of the Delaware Indian big house ceremony (in English and Delaware). Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission. p. 192. Retrieved 28 November 2012. In native text dictated by Witapanóxwe. 
  13. ^ Speck, Frank Gouldsmith (1942). The Tutelo spirit adoption ceremony :. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Public Instruction, Pennsylvania Historical Commission. p. 125. OCLC 762121. : reclothing the living in the name of the dead / Transcriptions and analysis of Tutelo music / George Herzog 

Additional reading[edit]

  • Blankenship, Roy (1991) The Life and Times of Frank G Speck, 1881-1950 Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. With chapters by John Witthoft, William N. Fenton, Ernest S. Dodge, C.A. Weslager, Edmund S. Carpenter, Anthony F.C. Wallace and Claudia Medoff. Speck wrote on the Indians of Delaware.
  • Darnell, Regna (2006) "Keeping the Faith: A Legacy of Native American Ethnography, Ethnohistory, and Psychology", New Perspectives on Native North America: Cultures, Histories, and Representations, ed. by Sergei A. Kan and Pauline Turner Strong, pp. 3–16. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Fenton, William N. (2001) "He-Lost-a-Bet (Howanʼneyao) of the Seneca Hawk Clan", Strangers to Relatives: The Adoption and Naming of Anthropologists in Native North America, ed. by Sergei Kan, pp. 81–98. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.