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Wilmer W. Tanner papers

Identifier: MSS 7361

Scope and Contents

This collection includes Wilmer W. Tanner's extensive correspondence, his and others' records associated with the Herpetologists' League, materials associated with the academic journal Herpetologica, materials associated with Tanner's involvement in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, materials associated with various Brigham Young University organizations, various materials associated with an Atomic Energy Commission project, extensive records and correspondence associated with the creation of and the endowment for the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, various research notes and computer printouts that deal primarily with herpetological research in the Great Basin area, zoology department documents, and various materials of personal interest to Wilmer W. Tanner, from 1940 to 2009.


  • 1940-2009


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from Wilmer W. Tanner papers must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Coordinating Committee.

Biographical History

Wilmer W. Tanner (1909-2011) was a professor and curator at Brigham Young University. He was instrumental in the endowing of the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum.

Wilmer W. Tanner was born in Fairview, Utah, in 1909. After growing up on his father's ranch, he served a Mormon mission in the Netherlands from 1929-1932. He later began his undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University. He married Helen Brown in 1935 before graduating in the spring of 1936 with a B.A. in zoology and entomology. He went on to receive a M.A. in zoology in 1937, coupled with a teaching certificate, which yielded him a job teaching biology, geology, and geography at Provo (Utah) High School. After several years of teaching and summers of doing field research, he began doctoral studies at the University of Kansas, obtaining a Ph.D. in 1949 after writing a dissertation on Mexican salamanders.

He began teaching at Brigham Young University shortly after the completion of his doctoral work, successfully implementing a research program during a time in which the university was focused almost exclusively on undergraduate education. From 1960 to 1967, he edited Herpetologica and succeeded in saving its host organization, the Herpetologists' League, from financial collapse. Tanner was heavily involved in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, appointed in 1961 (and reappointed in 1966) as secretary-treasurer of the Utah Academy and elected president of the same in 1969 (serving through 1971).

In 1972, Wilmer W. Tanner became the curator of the BYU Life Science Museum and soon after worked through the arrangements that brought the Monte L. Bean trophy collection to Brigham Young University. Tanner then oversaw the construction of the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum at BYU (which opened in 1978) and was instrumental in endowing the museum. Four years after Tanner's wife, Helen, passed away, he married Ottella Watson.

Wilmer W. Tanner is the author of nearly 150 publications. On October 28, 2011 he passed away in his home in Utah.


17 cartons (17 linear ft.)

1 oversize folder (0.20 linear ft)

2 oversize folders (0.20 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Arranged into six series: 1. Wilmer W. Tanner letters, 1940-2009. 2. Wilmer W. Tanner papers on professional organizations, circa 1960-1980. 3. Wilmer W. Tanner papers on the M.L. Bean Museum, 1971-2009. 4. Wilmer W. Tanner research, circa 1950-1980. 5. Wilmer W. Tanner teaching papers, circa 1950-1980. 6. Wilmer W. Tanner personal papers, 1950-2009.

Custodial History

Donated to University Archives by Wilmer W. Tanner in July 2009.

Donated by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum in August 2016.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Wilmer W. Tanner; July 2009.

Donated; Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum; August 2016.


Faculty papers (University Archives collecting policy, July, 2003).

Related Materials

See also the Wilmer W. Tanner interview, 1983 (MSS 2971), and the Wilmer W. Tanner oral history interview, 1983-1984 (UA OH 114).

Processing Information

Processed; Joseph M. Spencer; July 2009.

Processed; Eric Wolford; January 2017.

Register of Wilmer W. Tanner papers
Joseph M. Spencer
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States