Russell Carpenter Papers, 1833 -- 2012


Title: Russell Carpenter Papers
Dates: 1833 -- 2012
Bulk Dates: 1929 -- 1991
Creator: Carpenter, Russell LeGrand
Call Number: MS041
Size: 8.3 Cubic Feet, 1 Volumes, 5 Audiovisual Object(s), 1 Digital Object(s)
Language(s): English  
Permanent URL:
    Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University


This collection consists of the correspondence and collected papers of Russell Carpenter. Over the course of his almost seventy year association with Tufts, Carpenter created and collected photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia from his student days (1920-1924); correspondence, photographs, lantern and 35mm slides, and films of the Class of 1924 from their time at Tufts and eleven reunions (1924-1984); documents relating to his alumni activities outside of the Class of 1924; and any and all things related to Jumbo, the elephant, and P. T. Barnum (1938-1975), along with materials related to campus life during the first three-quarters of the 20th century.

Materials related to his position on the Department of Biology's faculty (1938-1969) include course materials, correspondence with members of the Tufts and scientific communities, conference and committee papers, reviews of biology textbooks, and documents that record his interest in ophthalmology, and his lectures on campus and at the Harvard Medical School. A small amount of personal correspondence, records of interests and scrapbook files are also included in the collection.


This collection is organized into five series: Alumni activities at Tufts, 1926-1984; Barnum Museum curatorship and Jumbo talks; Professional papers; Personal papers; Photographs, audio, and visual materials.


Biographical / Historical

Russell LeGrand "Bud" Carpenter (1901-1991), A1924, H1977, was professor of zoology, an active alumnus, and curator of the P.T. Barnum Collection, housed in the Barnum Museum during the more than thirty years he spent at Tufts.

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1901, Carpenter entered Tufts in 1920 intending to study English. He received twenty-five dollars in student aid from the college to help finance his education. After attending the lectures of Professors Herbert Neal and Fred Lambert in biology, Carpenter changed his major to biology. During his undergraduate years, he wrote a column for the Tufts Weekly, sang in the Glee Club, and also played the banjo in a small dance orchestra. He was also a member and, later, an adviser, of the Kappa chapter of the Zeta Psi fraternity on campus.

Following graduation from Tufts in 1924, he entered graduate school at Harvard University, and received a doctorate in zoology in 1928. That same year, he married Elsie Stuart Clark, with whom he later had two children, Russell and Cynthia, and he then started teaching at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

Carpenter returned to Tufts in 1938 as professor of zoology, undertaking both teaching and research activities that led to the establishment of the Radiobiology Research Laboratory, of which he served as director and principal investigator. He focused his research on the biological effects of microwave radiation, particularly on the eye, and published more than a dozen papers on the subject. Soon after his return to Medford, he and his family took up residence at 126 Packard Avenue, where they lived for the next eighteen years.

Carpenter was also a lecturer in ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School for more than twenty-five years and acted as a consultant on ophthalmic history for the Retina Foundation in Boston. He received many scientific honors, including election as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Beyond his teaching duties, Carpenter's involvement with Tufts as an alumnus was substantial. For almost seventy years, he served as secretary of the Class of 1924, organizing reunions and coordinating the exchange of information among class members. He was the first editor of the Tufts Alumni Review, the president of the New York Tufts Club, and, beginning in 1943, a member of the Tufts Alumni Council. He received the Tufts Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1942 and also served on the committees in charge of redesigning the Tufts Seal and the Tufts Chair.

Carpenter undertook the responsibility of establishing the Tufts Barnum Collection, which included letters and personal mementos of P.T. Barnum. Acting as the collection's curator, Carpenter spread the story of Tufts and Jumbo through his notable, witty lectures and slide shows.

In March 1968, for the first time in his thirty years as a professor, Carpenter presented a lecture on the history of Jumbo and how he "happened to matriculate" to his Biology 2 classes at Tufts. President Hallowell was extended an invitation to attend the morning course. Carpenter's personal photographs of almost all of the objects in the collection became invaluable to the institution following a 1975 fire which destroyed Barnum Museum and all of its contents.

Carpenter retired from Tufts in 1969. The following year he was invited to establish and direct a program of microwave bio-effects research for the Bureau of Radiological Health of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 1977, Tufts presented Carpenter with an honorary degree, recognizing his life-long dedication to his alma mater, both professionally and personally.

Carpenter died in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on July 28, 1991.

Access and Use

Access Restrictions

This collection contains some restricted material. Restrictions related to specific material are listed in the detailed contents list.

Use Restrictions

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Please see "Reproductions and Use" on the Digital Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permission to publish. Any intellectual property rights that the donor possesses have/have not been transferred to Tufts University.

Collection History

Processing Notes

Jessica M. Branco, Spring 2002. Several monographs, reprints, and serial publications concerned with P.T. Barnum, Jenny Lind, circus life, and Tufts history were removed from the collection and added to Tisch Library's Special Collections or the appropriate university publication collection. Clippings from the campus newspaper, the Tufts Weekly, (available at DCA) were also removed.

This collection is processed.

Subjects and Genre Terms
Related Material
  • AC, Artifact Collection, DCA
  • MS002, Phineas Taylor Barnum, papers, DCA
  • UA039 Classes, DCA
  • UA050, Self-study reports, DCA
  • UP004, Tufts Alumni Review, DCA

Series Description

  1. Alumni activities at Tufts, 1926 -- 1985

    This series contains Russell L. Carpenter's correspondence, personal notes, ledgers, and accounts of Class of 1924's eleven organized reunions (1934-84). The earlier reunion folders contain the bulk of the materials, although the 50th reunion folders include numerous letters from class members who could not attend. Questionnaires filled out by class members, contact lists, schedules of activities and Carpenter's notes detail this distinct group of people through World War II, the Baby Boom, and into retirement.

    Also included in this series are documents related to Carpenter's service on Tufts Alumni Council and his membership in the Tufts Alumni Association, and committees that studied Tufts night at the Boston Pops, the Tufts chair, and fund-raising efforts. There is a small amount of correspondence pertaining to his service as president of the Tufts Club of New York (1936-37).

  2. Barnum Museum curatorship and Jumbo talks, 1873 -- 1985

    This series contains materials related to Russell L. Carpenter's curatorship of the Barnum Museum. The majority of the documents are correspondence from children and adults, seeking information about and photographs of Jumbo. Also included in this series are lists of the slides used in Carpenter's Jumbo and Barnum talks, requests for him to present his talks at local events, accounts of the creation of the Barnum study room, Jumbo trivia, and correspondence with the Louis Paul Jonas family, who were the taxidermists responsible for Jumbo's periodic restorations. There are also accounts of the 1975 fire, inventory and losses lists, and information related to the disposal of the other animals in the museum's collection.

  3. Professional papers, 1874 -- 1987

    Much of this series contains correspondence between Russell L. Carpenter and numerous colleagues, students, publishing companies, and salesmen. There is a small amount of information of the Lambert-Kingsley Society, a student organization in the Dept. of Biology, and materials related to Carpenter's conference trip to Japan. Also of note is series of pen and ink drawings, "Shades of Barnum," that comically illustrate Biology students' activities around 1948. An anthology of Carpenter's published papers, compiled in 2001, is also included in the series.

  4. Personal papers, 1908 -- 1990

    This series contains biographic information for Russell L. Carpenter, personal correspondence, a number of folders of unfinished scrapbook materials that cover events both personal and professional, and a small amount of information pertaining to Zeta Psi fraternity at Tufts.

  5. Photographs, audio and visual material, 1833 -- 2012

    This series contains the multimedia components of the collection. The majority of the contents of this series were created and collected by Carpenter, as the reunion organizer for the Class of 1924. The audio cassette tapes are recordings of Carpenter's "talks" that accompanied the 35 mm slides of P.T. Barnum and Jumbo, which were sent to alumni groups around the country. The lantern slides of Jumbo and Tufts illustrated Carpenter's talks on Tufts history. The films also capture both activities of the Class of 1924, such as "jams," and historic buildings on campus, including Barnum Museum.

View Online Materials

Some of the materials from this collection are available online. Not all materials have necessarily been digitized.