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“I let too many girl pictures get by me”

Rising to a crescendo with the Arcturus Expedition in 1925, press stories spilled out about the women naturalist William Beebe had with him on his Department of Tropical Research expeditions. George Palmer Putnam, who headed the Putnam publishing company, led in driving publicity for Beebe, and he was good at it. He was married to a strong, independent woman himself, and later promoted, and then also married Amelia Earhart. Both men recognized the value and potential of women.

Beebe women staff 072124 B Daily Eagle

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 21, 1924

The wrong kind of publicity?

In early 1925, the publicity for Beebe may have gone too far, making his work look less than scientific. One researcher, Gary Kroll, interpreted exchanges between Beebe and Putnam as showing Beebe was upset, or at least that George Putnam thought so:

“The extent to which Beebe made [the Arcturus sensationalism] an issue is unclear. Beyond doubt, however, was Putnam’s almost paranoid perception of Beebe’s concern. As the Arcturus neared home, Putnam sent a telling letter to Beebe that describes to what lengths the two might have gone to preserve the professional representation of the expedition.”

‘You are tremendously nice in your attitude towards me in this whole matter and I appreciate it. I know perfectly well that often I blunder and do things which don’t altogether please you. But in the long run I think you are in reasonably good hands. In the first place, I grant that I let too many girl pictures get by me in that first batch and I know you didn’t like it. Anyway, henceforward the feminine element has been soft-pedaled satisfactorily. Perhaps we will smuggle say Dorothy and David and one girl ashore in the tug. If that does not prove practicable I think a stern order should go out from you, the commander, that the women are to be as little in evidence as possible at the landing. Certainly that none of them is to talk beyond the absolute necessities. The girls should say to the reporters ‘Dr. Beebe will give out all the information.’ And then poor Dr. Beebe, whether he wants to or not, will have to calmly take half an hour and sit down with the reporters and answer every damn question they want to ask. You may as well face the realization of that necessity. And then the young ladies can all disburse in their several directions and we will all be there to cooperate in soft pedaling them as much as can be. Not that there is anything reprehensible in it, but that from your standpoint is wisdom.’i

Gary Kroll took this letter at face value, but it looks more like Putnam was exaggerating, or having a bit of fun. Most signs in Beebe’s actions and further publicity and publishing show that he not only held high the accomplishments of his women’s staff, he celebrated them, with exhibitions of Cooper’s art, and chapters in his books by Ruth Rose. They did not sneak the women (and the boy, David Putnam) ashore.

i Gary Kroll, Exploration in the Mare Incognita: Natural History and Conservation in Early-Twentieth Century America, PhD. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, Norman Oklahoma, 2000, p. 212.

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