“George R. Fox, the Chamberlain Museum, and the Founding of the A.M.M.” by S.M. O’Connor

George Randall Fox (1880-1963) was the first curator of the Chamberlain Memorial Museum in Three Oaks Michigan and the founder of the Association of Midwest Museums.  Born in Peabody, Kansas on May 18, 1880, and raised in Wisconsin.[1]  He was an amateur archeologist and author who built windmills and worked for the United States Post Office at Appleton, Wisconsin for fourteen years after he graduated from high school and began to collect American Indian artifacts around 1900.[2]  In pursuit of this interest, he would explore mounds and rivers in Wisconsin and travel as far as the southwestern United States, Mexico, and the Galapagos Islands.[3]  In 1911, The Wisconsin Archeologist published his account of an expedition to Michigan’s Isle Royale in Lake Superior.[4]  Four years later, he spent some weeks studying with Wisconsin Archeological Society co-founder Charles Edward Brown (1872-1946) at the Wisconsin State Historical Society.[5]  Brown, who had saved over 100 American Indian mounds in the Madison area from destruction, became the founding curator of the Museum of the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 1908, and held that job until his retirement in 1944.  In 1917, Edward Kirk Warren (1847-1919) and his wife, Mary, asked Fox to become curator for a few months for a new museum they founded in Three Oaks, Michigan to honor Mrs. Warren’s father, Henry (“Harry”) Chamberlain.[6]  Warren was a retailer, clothing manufacturer, banker, and philanthropist.  He invented featherbone as an alternative to the use of whalebone as a stay in women’s corsets, and founded the Warren Featherbone Company in 1883 to manufacture it, and when whalebone fell out of fashion, he adapted to the times with a switch to the manufacture of other products such as ribbons and braids.[7]  In 1916, the E.K. Warren Foundation, the first foundation to be chartered in Michigan, had established the Chamberlain Memorial Museum.[8]  Harry Chamberlain had founded the village of Three Oaks, served as a state legislator, and served on the State Board of Agriculture.[9]  Fox organized 3,500 American Indian artifacts for the Warrens.[10]  The Chamberlain Memorial Museum was originally housed in the Warren family home.[11]   In 1919, E.K. Warren died, but the E.K. Warren Foundation continued to accumulate holdings.[12]

George R. Fox worked briefly as Curator of the Nebraska Historical Association in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1916 and returned to the U.S. Postal Service before he became the Curator of the Chamberlain Memorial Museum on a permanent basis.[13]   Fox held this position from 1917 to 1930.[14]  He was an active member of the Michigan Archeological Society and the Central States Branch of the American Anthropological Association.[15]  In 1926, the Wisconsin Archeological Society awarded Fox the Lapham Medal “for distinguished service in anthropological research.” [16]

As an autodidact (self-taught man) who had never attended college, G.R. Fox needing a way to commiserate with his peers.  He founded the Association of Midwest Museums (A.M.M.) in 1927 as the Michigan-Indiana Museums Association.  That first group of museum executives came from southern Michigan and northern Indiana.  The organization would be known as the Michigan-Indiana Museums Association from 1927 until 1932.  The 1928 Meeting of the Michigan-Indiana Museums Association was held in Battle Creek, Michigan on Friday, November 9, 1928.  Fox was President; Edward M. Brigham of Battle Creek was Secretary; and William Francis of La Porte, Indiana was Treasurer.  From 1932 to 1940, the organization was known as the Michigan-Indiana-Ohio Association.  It had welcomed museum leaders from Ohio in 1931 and would go on to welcome museum leaders from Illinois and Wisconsin by 1940.  The 10th Annual Conference of the Michigan-Indiana-Ohio Museums Association was held in Cleveland, Ohio from Friday, November 12, 1937 to Saturday, November 13, 1937.  From 1940 to 1952, the organization was known as the Midwest Museums Conference of the American Association of Museums.  [Please note that the American Association of Museums, founded in 1906, changed its name in 2012 to The American Alliance of Museums.]  The 22nd Annual Meeting of the Midwest Museums Conference of the American Association Museums was held in Dayton, Ohio from Thursday, October 13, 1949 to Saturday, October 15, 1949.  The Silver Meeting of the Midwest Museums Conference of the American Association of Museums was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Thursday, October 9, 1952 to Saturday, October 11, 1952.  In 1952, the Midwest Museums Conference awarded Fox a Certificate of Recognition.[1] The 38th Annual Meeting of the Midwest Museums Conference of the American Association of Museums was held in Springfield, Illinois from Wednesday, September 22, 1965 to Friday, September 24, 1965.  That same year, 1965, it organized as a non-profit corporation.  Today, the A.M.M. also includes museum professionals from Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.  The 1996 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Museums Conference was held in partnership with the Michigan Museums Association in Lansing and East Lansing, Michigan from Wednesday, October 30, 1996 to Saturday, November 2, 1996.

In 1928, the Chamberlain Memorial Museum moved into the three-story Italianate building at 3 North Elm Street in Three Oaks, Michigan that E.K. Warren had constructed in 1905, and which had housed the headquarters of the Warren Featherbone Company from 1905 to 1928.[18]  The Chamberlain Memorial Museum would remain in that building until 1952.[19]  The Warren Featherbone Company still exists as a privately-held company that has transformed from a clothing manufacturer to an educational company.  E.K. Warren’s great-grandson, Charles Edward (“Gus”) Whalen, Jr. (1945-2015), succeeded his father as President and C.E.O. of Warren Featherbone Company, and later served as Chairman.  He also revived the Warren Featherbone Foundation in Georgia.  The family had allowed the original foundation to wither away in the early 1960s.[20]

In 1930, Fox departed the Chamberlain Memorial Museum to run a camp for boys in Ontario for three years, according to the archivist who wrote the finding aid to his papers.[21]  He returned to Michigan, where he worked for the Dowagiac municipal government, founded a historical society, and wrote a column on Cass County history for the Dowagiac Daily News.[22]  He also wrote for another local newspaper, The Acorn, as well as The Wisconsin Archeologist, Michigan History Magazine, and The Totem Pole (which was a publication of the Aboriginal Research Club in Detroit).[23]  Fox was a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction, but many of his manuscripts were never published.[24]  According to another source, he moved to Dowagiac in 1930 to become a partner in the Howell-Fox department store.[25]   Between 1939 and 1941, he directed an archeological excavation conducted by the W.P.A. and sponsored by the University of Texas. [26]

Between 1924 and 1939, Fox served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Central Section of the American Anthropological Association (now the Central States Anthropological Society: A Section of the American Anthropological Association).[27]  Further, he served as Vice President from 1939 to 1941 and as President of the Central Section of the American Anthropological Association in 1941-42.[28]  The Michigan Archeological Society awarded him a distinguished service medal in 1960.[29]  A father of four, he died in Kalamazoo, Michigan on June 3, 1963.[30]  The George R. Fox Papers: 1915-1973 are at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In 1952, Fred P. Warren, President of the Board of Trustees of the E.K. Warren Foundation, transferred the Chamberlain Memorial Museum holdings to Michigan State University Museum to allow more people access to them.[31]  Michigan State University, formerly Michigan Agricultural College, is located in East Lansing, Michigan.  It would be fair to say that this gift of almost 10,000 objects was a major acquisition for the M.S.U. Museum, which had been founded in 1857, and formed the basis for the Historical Collection.  These collections are now known as the Chamberlain Memorial Museum Collections.

The Bank of Three Oaks purchased the old Warren Featherbone Company building, which had fallen into disrepair, in 1982.[32]  Larry Bubb (1940-2000), who was then President of The Bank of Three Oaks, saw to it that over $1,000,000 was spent on restoration of the building.[33]   The U.S. Department of the Interior added the Warren Featherbone Company Office Building to the National Register of Historic Places.[34]    The bank building housed several banks until 1999 when Three Oaks Township and Three Oaks Township Library purchased it from Fifth-Third Bank.[35]  The Three Oaks Township Public Library moved in on January 15, 2000.[36]    In 2004, The Region of Three Oaks Museum formed.[37]

The cultural legacies of Harry Chamberlain, Mary Chamberlain Warren, and Edward Kirk Warren live on, as does their bloodline.  Gus Whalen, Jr. and E.K. Warren’s other great-grandchildren visited the Michigan State University Museum and Special Collections Library on Thursday, November 19, 2009, and ended their day by reading his correspondence as well as his father’s in the University Archives.[38]  In addition to founding the Chamberlain Memorial Museum and transferring its holdings to the Michigan State University Museum, the Warren Featherbone Foundation also leased properties to the State of Michigan that became the Warren Dunes State Park, 250 acres of land that included 1.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, and Warren Woods Nature Study Area (also known as Warren Woods State Park), a 311-acre primeval forest north of Three Oaks, for $1 each, until 2037.[39]  Warren Dunes State Park has grown to encompass 1,950 acres.[40]

 

 

[1] Christine Di Bella, “George R. Fox papers: 1915-1973,” 2003 (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhlead/umich-bhl-0383?view=text) Accessed 02/08/18

[2] Di Bella

See also Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[3] Di Bella

[4] Di Bella

[5] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[6] Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, “Warren Family Visit Archives,” Archives @ MSU, 20 November, 2009 (https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/tag/chamberlain-memorial-museum/) Accessed 02/08/18

See also Di Bella

[7] “From Corsets to Philanthropy: The Warren Featherbone Company,” Michigan State University (http://archives.msu.edu/collections/featherbone.php) Accessed 02/08/18

[8] See also The Region of Three Oaks Museum, “What We Do,” (http://www.regionofthreeoaksmuseum.com/what-we-do/) Accessed 02/08/18

[9] Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, “Chamberlain Family Papers 0002” (http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/002.html) Accessed 02/08/18

[10] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[11] Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, “Warren Family Visit Archives,” Archives @ MSU, 20 November, 2009 (https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/tag/chamberlain-memorial-museum/) Accessed 02/08/18

[12] Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, “Warren Family Visit Archives,” Archives @ MSU, 20 November, 2009 (https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/tag/chamberlain-memorial-museum/) Accessed 02/08/18

[13] Di Bella

See also Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[14] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[15] Di Bella

[16] Di Bella

[17] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[18] Three Oaks Township Public Library, “Who We Are,” (http://www.threeoaks.michlibrary.org/about-us) Accessed 02/08/18

[19] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[20] Carol Draeger, “Legal storm brews over Warren Dunes,” South Bend Tribune, 16 March, 2008 (http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-03-16/news/26896836_1_heirs-land-documents) Accessed 02/08/18

See also “Warren’s legacy must be saved,” South Bend Tribune, 24 March, 2008 (http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-03-24/news/26902292_1_warrens-trillium-heirs) Accessed 02/08/18

[21] Di Bella

[22] Di Bella

[23] Di Bella

[24] Di Bella

[25] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[26] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[27] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

[28] Barry. L. Isaac, “CSAS: The Early Years,” University of Cincinnati (January, 2001), p. 8

See also Central States Anthropological Society, “Past Presidents,” (http://csas.americananthro.org/past-presidents/) Accessed 02/08/18

[29] Di Bella

[30] Di Bella

[31] Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, “Warren Family Visit Archives,” Archives @ MSU, 20 November, 2009 (https://msuarchives.wordpress.com/tag/chamberlain-memorial-museum/) Accessed 02/08/18

[32] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[33] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[34] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[35] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[36] Three Oaks Township Public Library

[37] The Region of Three Oaks Museum, “What We Do,” (http://www.regionofthreeoaksmuseum.com/what-we-do/) Accessed 02/08/18

[38] Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections

[39] Carol Draeger, “Legal storm brews over Warren Dunes,” South Bend Tribune, 16 March, 2008 (http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-03-16/news/26896836_1_heirs-land-documents) Accessed 02/08/18

See also “Warren’s legacy must be saved,” South Bend Tribune, 24 March, 2008 (http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-03-24/news/26902292_1_warrens-trillium-heirs) Accessed 02/08/18

[40] “Warren’s legacy must be saved,” South Bend Tribune, 24 March, 2008 (http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2008-03-24/news/26902292_1_warrens-trillium-heirs) Accessed 02/08/18

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