Teaching resources from the early 20th century

As they do today, teachers of a century ago relied on a variety of materials to supplement their expertise and enrich the educational experience they provided to their students. For this post, I note some century-old resources for teachers that refer to the California condor.

In 1900, John C Mountjoy published “The American Bird and Nature Study Chart”. This was actually a set of charts. Chart 25, titled “Miscellaneous Am. Birds”, shows a California condor and 8 other bird species. The condor is a taxidermied specimen on a pedestal with the bird’s head and neck a uniform, bright orange.

As Mountjoy’s charts just show images and brief captions, I was pleased to find Albert Schneider’s Teacher’s Manual: A Guide to the Systematic Use of “The American Bird and Nature Study Chart”, published in 1903 by Mountjoy. The preface explains that:

This manual is intended merely as a guide to the use of the American Bird and Nature Study Chart. The teacher must adapt the use of the chart to the understanding of the pupil, duly considering his intelligence, needs and experience….

The remarkable feature of the chart is the color photography by means of which the exact colors as they appear in nature are reproduced.

The manual’s description of chart 25 includes this:

The vulture family (Cathartidae) is represented by the turkey vulture and the California vulture. The buzzards and vultures are extremely useful birds, and some of them are very large, as the condor of South America, and several species of the eastern hemisphere.

01 Masthead - American Ornithology for Home and School

The magazine American Ornithology for Home and School served as a valuable teaching resource about birds. The Sepember 1901 issue includes the 5-page article “California Vulture” by Arthur Wilcox.

02 Wilcox 1901 - Title

Here are excerpts from Wilcox’s piece:

This greatest of all feathered scavengers is strictly a mountain bird. If he descends to the valley, it is only to gorge on a dead carcass. After finishing his meal, with a few flaps of his enormous wings, he mounts into the air, and then without any further perceptible effort, and taking advantage of every favorable current of air, rises skywards until a sufficient altitude is reached, when he starts homeward….

It is a fact greatly to be regretted that many hunters make a practice of shooting these birds whenever an opportunity occurs. They have no use for the bird, but kill it just because it is a rare one.

Wilcox’s article includes this scene of taxidermied birds:

03 Wilcox 1901 - Scene

The July 1903 issue of American Ornithology for Home and School includes “National Zoo Bird Items” by John W Day, Jr. This author writes:

During the warmer months, [the zoo’s 2 California condors] have occupied a spacious wire enclosure on the edge of a body of woods in front of the entrance of the main building of the Zoo, where they have been the centre of attraction to visitors…. They are tame and gentle, and great favorites with the keepers.

Among the other items concerning the California condor in American Ornithology for Home and School is an advertisement in the May 1901 issue for subscriptions to the journal Condor. The ad’s text reads, in part:

Have you seen the November-December number which completed volume II? It contains several notable illustrations, among them being the nest and eggs of Clarke’s Nutcracker; the first published photograph of the egg of the California Condor in its original nesting site, together with a descriptive article by the collector …

04 Mastead - Bird-Lore

Bound within the May-June 1925 issue of Bird-Lore magazine is “Educational Leaflet No. 123” from the National Association of Audubon Societies.

05 Finley 1923 - Title

This 4-page item by William L Finley is titled “The California Vulture”. There are no images but the text is rich. Finley begins:

When a boy of only nine, I visited an uncle who had a ranch on the Santa Inez River, in Southern California. One day while crossing a sandy wash, we saw in the distance a flock of large birds which I knew to be Turkey Vultures. A Mexican herder said they were feasting on a dead cow. As we approached there caught and held my vision a sight that I have always remembered. This was two very huge Vultures among the flock.

California’s state government was, of course, involved in education a century ago. “Educational Films and Lantern Slides of the California Fish and Game Commission” appears in the January 1927 issue of the magazine California Fish and Game. This article begins:

The following slides and motion picture films may be obtained free of charge by fish and game protective associations, schools, boy scouts, farm bureaus and other responsible organizations.

Under the heading “common birds” are lantern slides “59. Condor, California” and “86. Vulture, California”.

The next year saw the publication of Teacher’s Bulletin 9: Bird Study for California Schools by Gretchen L Libby and Harold C Bryant. This was published by the state’s Division of Fish and Game. This document includes a “size key to vultures and hawks” for 18 species, among them the California condor. The condor is also listed under the heading “California birds that every one should know” (!). The bulletin notes that:

The California vulture or “condor”, the largest land bird of North America, is now a very rare bird.

The useful teaching resources considered above no doubt helped teachers to cultivate in their students an interest in and concern for birds. I believe that these resources contributed to the survival of the California condor.

Other posts to this blog concerning education include Century-old books for younger children, Museum guides: 1915-1967, and Yet another early-20th-century poem.

The color image in “The American Bird and Nature Study Chart” noted above was also printed in a 1906 issue of Birds and Nature magazine. This image appears in the post 2 poems from the early 20th century.