General Anthony Wayne Vogdes was closely associated with the San Diego Society of Natural History during the early years of the 20th Century. Born to a distinguished family of military men, General Vogdes was a self-taught geologist and paleontologist of recognized ability and scholarship. On his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1904, he moved to San Diego to a home at 2425 First Avenue that he had purchased when stationed here as commander of the artillery district.
Vogdes’ return to San Diego was fortuitous for both the community and the Society. With Frank Stephens, Vogdes was instrumental in revitalizing the Society in the early 1900s; his leadership as president of the organization kept it going during a time of flagging public interest. Vogdes’ primary interests were the care and conservation of the collections and planning for the care of the collections for the future. During his tenure as president of the Society (1904 – 1920), he and Frank Stephens established the Society’s scientific publication series, the Transactions, to which Vogdes was an important contributor. The San Diego Natural History Museum continues this tradition of scientific publications today. During Vodges' tenure, organized collecting expeditions were begun in 1905, and in 1920 nature walks and outreach programs to local schools began.
From the time of the Society’s founding in 1874, it had met in members’ homes or offices and for a time rented a room in the Commercial Bank Building. Finding storage space for collections and books was a continuing problem. By 1890, the library and specimens were housed in the basement of the public library, and by 1907 collections were stored at several locations in town. Meetings were held at the Vogdes’ home or the public library basement. General Vogdes opened the Society’s first Museum in several rooms of the newly built Hotel Cecil in June, 1912. The hotel was located at 1134 Sixth Avenue on property donated in 1887 by Ephraim and Mary Morse as a future building site for the Society.
Anthony Wayne Vogdes was born on April 23, 1843 at West Point, New York, where his father, General Israel Vogdes, a descendant of “Mad” Anthony Wayne of Revolutionary War fame, was a professor of mathematics at the Military Academy. His mother, Georgiana Welch Berard, was the daughter of the Academy’s professor of French.
Vogdes was a student at the Sanders Institute in Philadelphia when the Civil War broke out in 1861. He immediately enlisted as a drummer boy in the Union Army. At the time of his first enlistment, an aunt gave him a Bible and a friend gave him a book on geology. He carried these with him throughout the war, and these two books became a defining influence on his interests in later life.
In 1863 Vogdes received his commission as 2nd lieutenant in the 100th New York Infantry. He participated in the siege of Ft. Sumter (1861) and was present at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox in April, 1865. During 1864-1865 Vogdes served with the First U.S. Artillery and was brevetted captain and major of the New York Volunteers. At the end of the Civil War, he was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry.
In December, 1867, Vogdes married Ada Adelaide Adams of New York. During the next two years he guarded advanced construction camps of the Union Pacific Railroad from attacks by Indians while on duty at Ft. Laramie and Ft. Fetterman, Wyoming. While stationed on the Indian frontier, Vogdes and his wife met and entertained many famous Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe leaders, including Red Cloud, Red Leaf, Big Bear, and Man Afraid of His Horses. Ada Vogdes kept a journal describing their life on the frontier from the years 1868 to 1871 which gives many details of the time period.
While posted in Wyoming, Vogdes began the study of geology and the collection of a geologic library. Like many citizen scientists of the time, he managed to combine his daily work responsibilities with a devotion to his scientific investigations. His first collection of fossils was made when he spotted fossilized shells among the debris excavated when the ground was leveled for the railroad. Among them were trilobites, and thus began a life-long fascination with these ancient, extinct organisms. The Vogdes trilobite collection is small, but diverse in terms of global coverage, at least for a 19th century personal collection. He taught himself to read French, German, Italian, Spanish and Norwegian. For most of his life Vogdes lived as both a military man and as a respected geologist.
Vogdes was promoted to 1st lieutenant in 1867, and in 1875 he was transferred to the 5th U.S. Artillery. In 1882 he graduated from artillery school at Ft. Monroe, Virginia. In 1889 he was promoted to captain and served in Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As major (1900) and colonel (1903), he commanded the artillery districts of San Diego, California and Key West, Florida. Vogdes retired in May, 1904, as brigadier general in the U.S. Army. While stationed in San Diego in 1901, Vogdes joined the San Diego Society of Natural History.
Vogdes’ wife Ada helped with his voluminous correspondence until her death at home in San Diego early in 1919. With her help he amassed his extensive collection of trilobites and collected his library, noted for its size and the many old and rare works on geology and paleontology. Vogdes published a number of works on genera and species of trilobites as well as a series of bibliographies of Paleozoic crustacea.
His personal library grew to more than 40,000 volumes. The frequent postings of Army life led him to design box containers for his books which stood on end, forming his book cases when not traveling. He became skilled in bookbinding, both as an art form and as a way to preserve his books and pamphlets. Vogdes was generous with his library; his bookplate reads “Vogdesii et Amicorum,” his books being always available to his friends.
According to General Vogdes, his library contained everything which had ever been published at the time on the geology and paleontology of California as well as complete sets of proceedings of many national and foreign scientific societies. The collection is of great value as a reference library on not only Paleozoic crustacea but on other geologic subjects. A significant part of his library was his extensive collection of maps, mostly of geological formations throughout the United States, which include some of the earliest maps of our collection.
At Vogdes’ death on February 8, 1923, this library was left in his will to his niece, Mrs. Stewart C. Kendall of San Diego, who placed it in custody of the San Diego Scientific Library Association. The large collection of trilobites was left to the San Diego Society of Natural History. Many of the library volumes came to the San Diego Natural History Museum Library while others are housed in the Huntington Library in San Marino.
In the last twenty years of his life, General Vogdes was a public-spirited citizen of San Diego. He served as president of the San Diego Academy of Sciences, was a fellow of the American Geological Society and member of the New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and California Academies of Science. He is remembered for his enduring contributions to the development, research and collections of the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Adams, Donald K., ed. “The Journal of Ada A. Vogdes, 1868-71.” Montana, the Magazine of Western History 13, no. 3 (July 1963): 2–18.
Dumble, Edwin T. “Memorial of Anthony Wayne Vogdes.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 35 (1923): 36–42.
Engstrand, Iris Wilson, and Anne Bullard. Inspired by Nature: The San Diego Natural History Museum After 125 Years. San Diego, Calif: San Diego Natural History Museum, 1999, pp. 47-71.
Gorby, Azalea P. “Rare Treasure.” Environment Southwest, no. 450 (January 1973): 7–8.
Hutchinson, Steven M. “Profile: Natural History Museum.” Environment Southwest, no. 475 (Fall 1976): 8-9.
Keyes, Charles. “Anthony Wayne Vogdes.” Pan-American Geologist XLI, no. 3 (April 1924): 160–68.
McGrew, Clarence Alan. City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California. San Diego, Calif: American Historical Society, 1922. Vol. 2, pp 36-37.
Vogdes, Anthony Wayne. Palaeozoic Crustacea; the publications and notes on the genera and species during the past twenty years, 1895–1917. Transactions of the San Diego Society of Natural History 3, no. 1 (July 20, 1917).
— Penny T. Ward, MLS, 2015. Research Library volunteer.