The Wesleyan Museum

The core of the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections consists of ethnographic and archaeological objects that were once part of the former Wesleyan Museum, a natural history museum that occupied part of the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences from 1871-1957.

The Wesleyan Museum was founded in 1871 as the Orange Judd Museum of Natural History.  However, some of its collections had been present on campus since the University’s founding in 1831. Over the next several decades, the Museum's collections were expanded under the curatorships of George Brown Goode, William North Rice, and S. Ward Loper. Materials were acquired via faculty and student research expeditions, donations, purchases, and exchanges with other museums (including the Smithsonian Institution, with which Goode was affiliated).

Judd Hall in 2012

Judd Hall, former home of the Wesleyan Museum

The Museum's initial focus was on scientific research and instruction in the natural sciences, which at that time consisted of collecting, identifying and labeling specimens so as to form a "comprehensive library of reference, in which each specimen with its label, is a volume, to be consulted for the determination of facts, or to be exhaustively studied for the purpose of acquiring mind-power and culture" (Fifth and Sixth Annual Reports of the Curators of the Museum of Wesleyan University 1877: 7). However, the curators were also aware of the general appeal of natural history museums. The Museum was open to the public on certain days of the week and, for a time, was a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

Public and institutional support for the Museum waxed and waned over the years. When Museum Curator S. Ward Loper died in 1910, he was not replaced; operation of the Museum was left in the hands of individual faculty members and their students. As scientific enquiry shifted from the aforementioned observational model to an experimental one, demand for laboratory space increased.

The Museum enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1930s, but by the 1950s the need for new laboratories was urgent, and the Museum was considered by some to be irrelevant to contemporary scientific research and teaching.

Thus, in 1957, the hundreds of thousands of objects and specimens in the Museum were either culled (disposed of or sent to other institutions) or hastily packed for storage, and the Museum formally ceased to exist. This was seen as a temporary measure at the time, but despite numerous subsequent attempts, a museum was never re-established on campus.

Wesleyan Museum Collections Today

An unknown number of the objects and specimens from the former Wesleyan Museum were irreparably damaged or stolen while in storage. The main storage areas, located in the tunnels beneath the Foss Hill dormitories, were reportedly plagued by high humidity, insects and the occasional band of marauding students! However, portions of the old collections remain, and many of these objects have been incorporated into new educational resources on campus.

Exley Science Center

Exley Science Center

Archaeological and ethnographic objects, as well as some animal skeletons, are now part of the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections housed in Exley Science Center, maintained by the Archaeology Program. More information about these objects may be found on these pages.

Dinosaur tracks, minerals and fossils can be seen on display in the lobby of Exley Science Center and in the Joe Webb Peoples Museum, maintained by the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

Stuffed birds can still be seen in cases lining the halls of Shanklin Laboratory.


A few musical instruments from Africa are now part of the Music Department's World Musical Instrument Collection; accessible online via the Virtual Instrument Museum.

For more information, please see:
Special Collections & Archives, Olin Library, especially, Wesleyan Museum Records, 1836-1985, Collection 2000-27.
Please be sure to check SC&A's hours and policies prior to your visit.

Note: The Wesleyan Museum Accessions Ledger and Ethnology Catalogues are currently held by the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections, as they are still being used in active cataloging. Please contact Archaeology and Anthropology Collections staff regarding these resources.