1909 to 1919

Resident Naturalist, Ornithologist, and Teacher-Headmaster of Two Schools in Kansas City and St. Louis

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

An offer was made to Ralph Hoffmann in 1909 to be the headmaster of the Country Day School in Kansas City, Missouri (Swanton, 1981). The next year, in 1910, Ralph Hoffmann and Gertrude Hoffmann, along with their family of three children, move from Massachusetts to Missouri (Palmer, 1932).

In 1917, Ralph Hoffmann moved to St Louis to open a new Country Day School. It was while here in St. Louis that he wrote several articles about birds and plants.

During the approximately 10 years of residency in Missouri, Ralph Hoffmann traveled nearly each summer, back to Massachusetts in Berkshire County. He traveled there by train through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, before finally arriving in Massachusetts. While in Massachusetts, he visited family and friends in Berkshire County at Stockbridge, but he also collected plants from marshes, rivers, forests, and mountains of the county. And, of course, he always observed birds too.

While residing in Missouri, he wrote at least two articles on birds for the ornithology magazine called Auk. Both articles were written near the end of his residency in Missouri (Hoffmann, 1917 & Hoffmann, 1918 respectively). He also wrote two article on plants from his desk at his home or at the school in Missouri, which were published by the New England Botanical Club in the scientific journal known as Rhodora. Unfortunately, these two botanical articles were on plants found in Massachusetts.

In 1919, Ralph Hoffmann and his family moved to Santa Barbara County in California. They traveled by train, first back east to Massachusetts, then west to California. They likely traveled through Missouri on this trip. In California, he soon settled in at Carpinteria, where he became the director-teacher (headmaster) of a private school. A year later, in 1920, he made a visit another visit back to Massachusetts, and I speculate that he likely traveled through Missouri, on this trip, perhaps also on his return trip back to California.

After residency in California for approximately 13 years, Ralph Hoffmann died of injuries from a fall on a cliff on San Miguel Island in 1932. He was looking for native plants on this cliff, probably trying to collect a new species. His tragic death brought to an end his bird studies and plant studies in Santa Barbara County. Any future goals he had of writing two books or monographs on the bird and plants of Santa Barbara County perished with his death.

A careful reading of a biographical essay on Ralph Hoffmann, written by Harold Swanton (1981), which appeared, coincidentally, in Natural History, is also important to understanding the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. He was a superb naturalist and student of natural history. During his lifetime and even today, he is largely forgotten. He was an unsung naturalist and ornithologist in Massachusetts, Missouri, and California. This research project hopes to change a little of that biased nature of being unsung, particularly since Ralph Hoffmann was a distinguished naturalist and teacher, as well as the director of an important regional Museum of Natural History.

This article is a contribution to show that Ralph Hoffmann has influenced and assisted scientists and naturalists for more than 60 years after his death, simply through his good writing, field collecting, knowledge, and inspiration that he put into his work. My efforts in writing this article is part of a larger project for a comparative biography, history, geography, and ecology of Ralph Hoffmann and his natural history studies, in Missouri, California, and Massachusetts. The project will compare his residency in these three states, from the perspective of birds as a subject of natural history.

The result of this study will be the compilation of Ralph Hoffmann's journeys and explorations for birds in Missouri. Along the way, in assembling this research, it was discovered that there are many birding books and floristic books that have dedicated, recognized, and acknowledged Ralph Hoffmann, before and after his death. Ralph Hoffmann became a naturalist, first in Massachusetts, but later in life, he grew as a naturalist, in Missouri for 10 years, and finally in California, where his knowledge grew and blossomed still further during the last 12 years of his life. A preliminary sample of a chronology of some his field studies and writings during his time in Missouri is presented in Table 1 below. I begin with a few dates from 1909, from Massachusetts to set the parameters of his arrival in Missouri. I end this chronology with a few dates and places in Massachusetts and California to document the parameters of his emigration from Missouri, as best they can be discerned at this time.

An interesting discovery from this research is that Ralph Hoffmann would visit Berkshire County, from his residence in Missouri. For example, in 1914, he botanized and collected a plant on August 15 (1914) in Great Barrington. Moreover, he had moved to Missouri in 1909. Additional research of the annotated catalogue in the floristic monograph by Pamela Weatherbee (1996) revealed that he visited several regions in Berkshire County to collect plants in 1914. In other places in her annotated catalogue, it was discovered that Ralph Hoffmann collected plants in Berkshire County nearly every summer between 1909 and 1919. It is clearly evident, that with the termination of each school year in Missouri, and his responsibilities completed as the headmaster, he would travel to Berkshire County, Massachusetts. These trips were likely a combination of vacation, visiting his roots and family, and also finding time to collect plants and observe birds in various regions of Berkshire County. By the end of summer, he would resturn again back to his home in Missouri.

Table 1.
Chronology of Dates of Travel and Writing by Ralph Hoffmann

Offer made to Ralph Hoffmann to be Headmaster of private boys school in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hoffmann family moves to Kansas City, Missouri.

Aug 15 ... Great Barrington ... Berberis thunbergii (Atlas of New England Invasive Plants)

December 31 ... an immature Purple Gallinule captured near Kansas City.

Article published in Auk regarding capture of a Purple Gallinule in Kansas City

Two articles published on plants of Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Sept 10 ... Observes evening roosts of Doves and Robins in the St. Louis region.

Jan xx ... Article regarding the Mourning Dove and Robin observation in St. Louis region
July xx ... Hoffmann family moves to Santa Barbara County, California, but first Ralph Hoffmann visits Berkshire County
Jul 16 ... Stockbridge, Berkshire Co., Rhamnus cathartica escaped in hedgerow
Jul 21 ... Hancock, Berkshire Co. ... Tennessee Warbler at Berry Pond, 2000'. (Hoffmann 1922)
Aug 08 ... Lenox Railway station, Berskhire Co. ... 3 egret in pond by river (Hoffmann 1922).
Aug 09 ... Lenox, Mass. ... Upland Plover nest (Hoffmann 1922).
Nov 15 ... Hope Ranch pond ... 12 swans, (Hoffman 1920a).
Dec 24 ... Hope Ranch pond ... 44 swans, waterfowl refuge, (Hoffmann 1920a).
Dec 29 ... Santa Barbara ... writes swan article at desk, (Hoffmann 1920a).

Jan 09 ... Carpinteria Woods ... warbler in live oaks (Henderson 1920)
Jun 04 ... At Desk in Stockbridge, Mass. ... writes Santa Cruz Island article, (Hoffmann 1920).

Jul 21 ... San Miguel Island ... Dies from fall on a Cliff (Swanton 1981)

Ralph Hoffmann was a dedicated naturalist and it is significant that he traveled and did field studies in so many interesting places in the Pacific states. Wouldn't it be nice to assemble a complete guide to his travels and writings while a resident in Missouri? It would be of interest if only for the reason of a more complete history and in doing deep ecology in Missouri and for a more complete biographical history of Ralph Hoffmann.

This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding in Missouri, California, and Massachusetts. Of course, there are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Missouri, Massachusetts and California that will also be considered. We would see that he traveled and wrote about his bird observations in at least 7 states. Three of those states were on the Pacific Coast (California, Oregon, Washington) and three of those states were on the Atlantic Coast (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire). The seventh state is Missouri in the heart and center of North America.

In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States. It would peer into a part of Missouri history of birding, between 1909 and 1919.

I acknowledge and dedicate this article to my parents, John and Betty van de Hoek, for their inspiration.

Bibliography and References Cited
Carroll, Mary. 2004. A Garden For All Time: Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Noticias 50(4)/51(1): 1-58.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1916. The Pomarine Jaeger and the Purple Gallinule in Western Missouri. Auk 33: 196.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1917. A Glandular Form of Heracium paniculatus. Rhodora 19 (218): 37.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1917. Glandularity on Veronica anagallis-aquatica. Rhodora 19 (219): 60.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1919. Mourning Doves Sharing a Robin Roost. Auk: 106-107.

Henderson, H.C. 1920. Black and White Warbler in Carpinteria, California. Condor 32:76-77.

Hoffmann, Ralph. 1920a. A Large Flock of Swans Wintering at Santa Barbara. Condor 22:77.

Hopkins, June, 1955. Einstein Visit. Museum Talk 30(2):21-22.

Palmer, T. S. 1932. Obituary of Ralph Hoffmann. Auk 49: 518-519.

Saunders, Charles Francis 1927. The Wild Gardens of Old California. Published at Santa Barbara.

Smith, Clifton. 1998. Flora of the Santa Barbara Region. Santa Barbara Bot. Gard.

Swanton, Harold. 1981. Ralph Hoffmann: unsung guide to the birds. Natural History 90: 20-30.

Weatherbee, Pamela. 1996. Flora of Berkshire County, Mass. The Berkshire Museum.

Weld, Lydia. 1932. Mortality Among Birds in Antelope Valley, California. Condor 34: 137-138.

Wyman, Luther. 1924. The Pectoral Sandpiper in Southern California. Condor 26(1): 36.