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The Origins of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club

Transcript of a letter from William Lloyd Baily to Fletcher Street dated 1/20/1940. The original letter in the Papers of William Lloyd Baily in the archives of the Acdemy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.

It is surmised that this letter was in response to a request from Street in preparation of the 50th anniversary of the DVOC.

Haverford 1/20/1940
J. Fletcher Street

Dear Fletcher,

You have given me a task which would be easier to tell than to explain in writing – “How and why the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club came into being”. I do not want to try to make this an historical record but I think it quite necessary to emphasize the background from which the club derived its inspiration.

At the outset it might be well to keep in mind mention that for a number of years following the Wilson, Audubon, Cassin period, organized ornithology work in Phila. was at a standstill, though there were individuals always at work, who should be given the credit of linking up the past with the present.

In the late seventies there were a number of Bird enthusiasts near Philadelphia who lived afield and began collecting, though without any mutual organized plan. Sam Rhoads had started to collect and soon after Geo. Morris collected with him. Spencer Trotter my dear neighbor and boyhood companion began his trips to the park and country beyond, starting his collection while in his teens. I began collecting eggs about the same time. I knew all these men and just remember the late Will Collins who frequently collected with Trotter.

In 1881 when I was at Haverford College a bird club of six members was formed including Will Haines, Harry Stokes, Alfred Garrett, Alan Cope, Will Gommery and myself, all collegians except Alan Cope of Germantown. We had postals printed with a list of the common birds, and these were filled out from week to week and sent to me for tabulation. But the club was short-lived and soon disintegrated, owing to graduation and the starting of business of its members.
However I had so thoroughly contracted the fever that I kept on with my hobby and by 1885 when I joined the Am. Ornith. Union, I had six or eight hundred bird skins, collected from Western Penna, Maine, Canada and the Jersey Coast. Rhoads, Morris and Trotter also had accumulated large collections and were already men of more than local fame. None of us however had waked up to the advantage of organization, prepared as we were for such an auspicious event soon to happen and welcomed when it came, with unanimous enthusiasm.

It happened in December 1889 that I entered the employ of Wilson Bros, Architects, and one day my bird hobby boiled over within the hearing of J. Harris Reed, when I found he to was interested in birds, and though he had not acquired the habit of keeping notes, he had done some collecting of birds, which his friend Charlie Voelker, a past master as a taxidermist, had mounted for him. Voelker was also a keen observer.

Reed became much enthused, when I showed him my yearly lists and after wards my bird skins as well as samples of postals used by the late bird club at Haverford.

He forthwith purchased a note book and began to report lists from Tinicum, a locality I was glad to hear from.
In early January 1890 Reed and I decided to ask Rhoads, Morris and Trotter and also Reed’s friend Voelker to join us in keeping of combined lists, which the heartily agreed to do, and the postal method was started. This did not prove intimate enough, and they all accepted with enthusiasm an invitation to meet on January 22nd at my father’s house, 1624 Arch Street, Philadelphia. After a most harmonious meeting, we agreed tp form an active Ornithological Society. Rhoads was appointed temporary secretary + your humble servant chairman. Rhoads was asked to prepare a constitution, which was presented at the next meeting a week hence when Voelker turned up making the sixth member. It was at this meeting that the name of Witmer Stone was suggested by Trotter, who was working with him, I believe, under the Jessup Fund at the Academy.

I should mention here that Rhoads, Stone and I had all joined the A.O.U in 1885, Morris in ’87 + Trotter in ’88. Stone joined us at the third meeting on Feb. 3rd 1980, making the seventh member. The constitution and by-laws were adopted and the wheels of the club were set in motion, Dr. Trotter furnishing us with the name of “Delaware Valley Ornithological Club.”

I feel that you will agree with me that no more fortunate selection of such men as Trotter, Rhoads and Morris and finally our guiding light Witmer Stone, could have been found, all men of the highest integrity and well seasoned in their favorite hobby. As the years have rolled by, the selection of men of similar caliber has maintained the high standard of the membership and secured of the D.V.O.C the envious place which it has held among Bird Clubs from the very beginning.

Very truly yours
Wm. L. Baily