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The Society of the Friends of the National Museum W hen Mello Leitão invited Brazilians to collect specimens from different regions of the country, pack them properly, and ship them to the National Museum, one of those who answered his call was young Augusto Ruschi, born in the interior of the state of Espírito Santo in 1915, the son of Italian immigrants. As a boy, he spent his days playing with plants and insects on Chácara Anita, the small farm owned by his agronomist father. In 1925, he and his family moved to the city of Vitória, the state capital. His elementary school teacher, the writer and poet Maria Estela de Novaes, had a keen interest in natural history and encouraged her student. Perhaps she was the one who put him in contact with the National Museum, to which Augusto began sending shipments of material he gathered in the woods around the region—material that reached the hands of Mello Leitão. In 1932, the young man sent him boxes of larvae from a pest that had been attacking orange groves. Filippo Silvestri, a zoologist with the agricultural college in Portici, Italy, was one of those who received Ruschi’s material through Mello Leitão. In 1937, Silvestri paid a visit to Brazil, and he and Mello Leitão traveled to Espírito Santo to meet the twenty-two-year-old in person.1 3 The Making of a Biologist Humanity is greatly indebted to zoology, especially from the dawning of this century on, when it shifted from contemplation to activism. Many people still have the idea that the zoologist is a harmless madman, tinkering away with his innocuous, useless obsession. . . . Taxonomy was an indispensable step, but it yielded no immediate fruit. It was only when the field moved to the study of ecology, of the relations of animals with their environments and with other animals, that it became clear what tremendous benefits can be gained from knowing our fauna. —Mello Leitão, 1943 The Making of a Biologist 127 It was an era of turmoil for the National Museum, as discussed in the last chapter. But some of its members launched a project meant to give the institution a boost of energy. On July 21, 1937, the businessman and philanthropist Guilherme Guinle (1882–1960) met with researchers Mello Leitão, Alberto Sampaio, Paulo Roquette-Pinto (son of Edgard Roquette-Pinto and a naturalist at the museum),Alberto Childe,and Paulo Campos Porto (1889–1968,botanist ), among others. Guinle’s presence was important and represented much more than the financial support of his millionaire family. He was a pioneering entrepreneur, an “enlightened” nationalist, and a sympathizer of the National Liberation Alliance, whose participation had been decisive during early twentieth-century modernization projects in Rio de Janeiro; he had also had a steady hand in the definition of public health policies for the poor. His brother Carlos Guinle (1883–1969) had worked alongside Roquette-Pinto at Rádio Sociedade as a board member in the 1920s.2 The meeting attendees decided to establish a society to help support the museum —along the lines of the Société des Amis du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris—and start a magazine.They also discussed the bylaws of the new organization, drafted by Mello Leitão. Approved and published that same year, they stipulated that the society would safeguard the cultural heritage of the National Museum in five basic ways: by helping to enrich its collections and library; by keeping private collections from being passed to foreign institutions ; by offering assistance to expeditions of Brazilian and foreign naturalists, as long as they ultimately added to the museum’s collections; by promoting the establishment of zoos and reserves for flora and fauna; and by doing its utmost to foster better knowledge of Brazilian flora and fauna and respect for the nation’s indigenous peoples with a view to preventing their extinction.The association was open to anyone interested, and it defined very flexible levels of membership fees, ranging from five mil réis a month up to twenty contos de réis or more, payable in cash or through donations of collections or books.3 Guilherme Guinle was appointed president; Mello Leitão, vice-president; and Campos Porto, secretary. The first and only issue of the magazine Uiára came out in late 1937. Its title harkened back to Roquette-Pinto’s reference to the legend of Ui...


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