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J. Malcolm Greany Papers and Photographs: Aleutian Islands, 1941

Identifier: MS 253

Scope and Contents

The collection contains original color slides, dating from J. Malcolm Greany’s 1941 visit to Attu; other photographs include color print copies of the slides, and also black and white prints taken on Attu. In addition, there are field reports, journal entries, and numerous papers relating to Greany’s work for the Fish and Wildlife Service and to his drafts of two articles: “Island Trail to Asia” and “The Last Days of Attu.” Finally, there are photocopies of newspaper articles relating to the experiences of the Aleuts during World War II, and a copy of a magazine article, “They Came to Attu,” by Corey Ford.

21 black and white prints 25 color slides 23 color prints Papers


  • 1941

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for viewing; however, the photographs may not be photocopied.

Conditions Governing Use

Request for permission to publish or reproduce material from the collection must be discussed with the Librarian.

Biographical / Historical


During the summer of 1941, J. Malcolm Greany traveled to the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge aboard the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service boat Brown Bear. As a wildlife photographer for the Alaska Game Commission, Greany was along to photograph the populations of colonial nesting birds, marine mammals, and other wildlife indigenous to the Aleutian Islands and their adjacent waters. The westernmost Aleutian Island visited on the journey was Attu, where, in addition to photographing wildlife, Greany photographed the local people, their homes, church, and baskets. Less than a year later, in June of 1942, the people of Attu were captured by Japanese invading forces, shipped to Japan, and interned for the duration of the war. 22 individuals from Attu did not survive their imprisonment in Japan. The 25 survivors were resettled in Atka; a community was never re-established on Attu. The photographs and notes in this collection document the last days of the Attuans.


The following information is taken from Greany’s autobiographical notes, which are included in Folder 3. Ten years before, I was interested in Archeology, in fact so much so that I spent too much of my time studying this subject and not enough time [on] my school subjects –much to the concern of my teachers who worried more about these outside interests than I did… After graduating by the skin of my teeth, I started for Harvard University. I had note books bulging with information I had dug up from many sources. Surely if the good professors saw that I was really interested in Archeology, they would give me a chance to study it. Several good friends very earnestly told me that unless I had a college education, I could expect to get nowhere in actual field work…

With high hopes I arranged a consultation with the noted anthropologist Dr. Ernest A Hooton… Dr. Hooton asked the questions. What kind of marks did I get in school? How much Latin did I have? And, how much money did I have to see college through? My answers were not very encouraging either to him or tome. Poor marks. No Latin, except 20 lessons after which the teacher said I was wasting my time and hers. And no money. Of course I could wash dishes, or even stuff birds for the college museum. I had done both before. But the Doctor just shook his head. Poor marks, no Latin, not a chance.

The blue-blooded and cultural city of Boston had suddenly become drab and lonely. I headed south for the University of Pennsylvania. There I looked up a lady anthropologist with whom I had carried on considerable correspondence, Dr. Frederica de Laguna. I told her I was coming and we met in the hallway of the University Museum. I noticed that she wore a puzzled expression and finally smiled as she said, “I was looking for an old man with a beard.” We both laughed and went into the museum exhibit rooms to view her collection from Prince William Sound. The hours passed quickly…

The next day I made an appointment to see the registrar. He did not ask about my school marks. He sent for them. In the meantime, I was given a series of tests… One written question in particular had me stuck. It read something like this: If you were late for a lecture and there was one empty seat way up in front, would you walk up and take the seat or stand up in the back? Placing myself in the [examiner’s] place, I could realize his impression of either answer. If I said I would walk up and take the front seat, he would consider me as bold and inconsiderate. If I said I would stand up in the rear of the hall, he would consider me timid and shy. I answered that I would stand. Evidently, the answer was wrong…

At school, I was captain of our debating team; I had pinch hit for the teacher in Field Biology and in two years time had over 30 one-hour lectures to my credit. And yet, according to the answer I gave I was classed as timid and shy… By this time, my marks from school had arrived. The registrar called me into the office. Slowly he shook his head and said that even though I was recommended highly by the school principal, my marks proved otherwise…

So I headed south to the National Museum at Washington and the Smithsonian. Perhaps if I could not go to college I could at least get a job in a museum, working around the subject I had such an interest in… With my last lead gone, I went back to Detroit and got a job in an automobile factory. I was still going to Alaska [but] my interest in Archeology had to give way to practical interests. I learned my lesson, you can’t get any place just on interest…

I left for Alaska in the spring of 1936 and in due time arrived in Juneau. And then, quite accidentally, was taught the fundamentals of photography by Leonard Delano. In turn, [I] helped him with what he taught me. Later in the year, I had the opportunity of joining Fr. Bernard Hubbard’s expedition up the Taku River and onto the snow caps of S. East Alaska. My knowledge of photography was extended, and I saw the chance of getting into something I did not need a college education for. I also realized how much there was to photograph; so, after the expedition was over, I went back to the states.

I spent two years working in a large eastern camera store. Spent my evenings doing commercial work. Took time off to photograph a zoological expedition to the southwest. A year later, got married to a girl who corrected my spelling in school before I handed my composition to the teacher… Spent our honeymoon traveling with another couple by car through the Rockies. We camped and photographed to our hearts content. In due time, we arrived in Seattle and took passage to our future home –Alaska. I obtained a job doing wildlife photography for the Alaska Game Commission and, several years later, came my chance to make the semi-annual patrol voyage of the Brown Bear of the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Aleutian Island Wildlife Refuge.


0.42 Linear Feet (1 box) : 21 black and white prints, 25 color slides, 23 color prints, papers

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was purchased by the Alaska State Library Historical Collections in November 2009. (Accession number: 2009-43).

Processing Information

Photographs were numbered by staff and housed in Mylar; notes, journal entries, and writing were filed in pH-neutral folders; newspaper articles were photocopied. The collection is described at an item level.

Finding aid for the J. Malcolm Greany Papers and Photographs: Aleutian Islands, 1941
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Processed by: Gayle Goedde, November 2009. ArchivesSpace Finding Aid by: Freya Anderson
2019 May
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Repository Details

Part of the Alaska State Library - Historical Collections Finding Aids Repository

PO Box 110571
Juneau AK 99811-0571 US
907-465-2151 (Fax)