All in the Family: Notable Archive Finds a Home at Amherst

Founding the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Pioneering humane and collaborative management practices in the textile industry.
Outfitting an innovative oceanographic exploration vessel called the
Innovating the mass production of cotton bandages on the eve of World War I.
Winning a Nobel Prize in physics.

These are just some of the extraordinary accomplishments of an extended family that has been connected to Amherst College for generations: the Kendalls and Plimptons. It covers just a fraction of who they were and what they did but brings to life the insistent curiosity of Amherst alumni and the way their inquiries and endeavors impact the world. At the heart of the family are Henry P. Kendall 1899—known as Harry—and his sons Henry W. Kendall ’50 and John P. Kendall ’51. Their far-ranging ventures in industry, science, exploration, and activism trace a line of achievement that runs the full course of the 20th century and beyond.

Now, thanks to a uniquely generous gift to the College’s archives from the Norfolk Charitable Trust—headed by Andrew Kendall ’83 P’19,’22, son of John—students and faculty in departments ranging from American studies to physics to photography soon will be able to delve into the papers, photography, and memorabilia of this intriguing family.

“Amherst College has had special meaning for members of the Kendall and Plimpton families for many years,” says Andrew Kendall. “As the Norfolk Charitable Trust sought permanent homes for collections representing the life and work of these individuals, Amherst emerged as the ideal candidate.”

Harry Kendall 1899 was an entrepreneur and industrialist who grew a small, failing family mill in Walpole, Massachusetts, into an international textile company by adhering to principles of efficiency and productivity. “His papers, along with those of the Kendall Company, reveal not only the business acumen of an early proponent of Scientific Management but also his extensive public service and his national leadership in areas of industrial policy and worker welfare in the first half of the 20th century,” notes Elisabeth J. McGregor, curator and archivist at the Norfolk Charitable Trust Archive. “They also show his many connections and interests, particularly his love of nature and outdoor pursuits.”

Henry W. Kendall ’50 was the J.A. Stratton Professor of Physics at MIT and received the Nobel Prize in 1990 for research on subatomic particles. A founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1969 and its chair for 25 years, Professor Kendall authored the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity in 1992. He also inherited his father’s love of the natural world. His papers, according to McGregor, “include not only extensive records of his professional life and public activism, but also thousands of his skilled photographs which capture his adventures as a world-class mountain climber and a pioneer in underwater photography.” His collections of photographs include a stunning array of documentary images from Nepal, Peru, Australia, Antarctica, the American West, and other points around the world, pioneering in underwater photography with equipment he designed and built himself.

John P. Kendall ’51 is a businessman and philanthropist, who spent his career as a senior executive in the Kendall Company and serves as a trustee at the Norfolk Charitable Trust. He also managed the design, building, outfitting and deployment of the innovative Abel-J oceanographic research vessel, which gathered foundational recordings of marine mammal acoustics. In addition, John was an influential advisor to Hampshire College in the 1970s and 1980s, and is the father of two Amherst alumni, the grandfather of two recent or soon-to-be graduates, and a cousin, uncle and brother-in-law to still more.

The gift from the Norfolk Charitable Trust includes the papers of Harry, Henry and John Kendall; the annals of the Kendall Company; Harry Kendall’s wife Evelyn Way Kendall, a Canadian nurse and artist whose papers reflect her own wide-ranging interests as a collector of art and history; and the Kendall-Plimpton Family History and Genealogy Archive, documenting a family whose affiliation with Amherst extends across 120 years and includes the College’s 13th president Calvin H. Plimpton ’39.

While the archive is remarkable, so is the support that comes with it. The gift from the Norfolk Charitable Trust includes a grant to incorporate the materials into Amherst’s archive and to establish a permanent endowment to support their long-term care. This includes funding for an archivist to help organize and introduce the collection over the next year as well as ongoing opportunities for Amherst students as student workers, summer interns, and green deans, who are recent Amherst graduates. Part of their charge will be getting word out on campus to departments whose work might overlap with the collections.  

“The next steps for us are to hire a professional archivist to spend a year integrating the Kendall materials into our existing systems and collections,” says Michael Kelly, Amherst’s head of archives and special collections. “The really fun part will be teasing out all the connections between the Kendall family and other Amherst College figures.”

Earlier this year, Amherst launched Promise: The Campaign for Amherst’s Third Century, a five-year, $625 million comprehensive campaign, which will preserve Amherst’s longstanding strengths while supporting the College's ambitions to innovate in instructional and curricular practices. Just as the Kendall family has invested in Amherst throughout the 20th century and into the next, the campaign will ensure that the College has the students, faculty, facilities, and resources to extend its leadership into the future.