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Making Family Connections in the Kinsey Library

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Librarian Liana Zhou shares Alvarez-Kinsey letters with Milly and Jean Alvarez

Dr. Walter Alvarez, professor of Geology at University of California Berkeley, is best known for establishing the theory that a massive asteroid triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs.  He was invited to Indiana University to teach and lecture as a Wells Scholars Program Professor on geology and “Big History,” tying together every aspect of history, from the beginning of the universe to the minutia of human impacts.   

When members of the Alvarez family stopped in to The Kinsey Institute on March 29, they experienced a personal history lesson of their own.  

Walter and his sister Jean recalled hearing their grandfather talk about having donated some books and papers to the Institute for Sex Research.  A quick check in the Kinsey library files confirmed that Dr. Kinsey and Dr. Alvarez, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic, had a rich correspondence over the years.  As Librarian Liana Zhou opened a thick folder of ordered papers, the very first item was an introductory letter:

“ I was delighted to hear that at last someone has had the courage to study the anthropology and folklore and literature of sex. It is astounding that even human biologists, anthropologists and medical men usually have shied off from having anything to do with the subject. And yet it is one of the most important that we should study.”

Dr and Dr Walter Alvarez

Professor Alvarez’s grandfather and namesake was an outspoken supporter and, later, friend of Alfred Kinsey. Along with letters though the years, the Library archives included a copy of the newspaper column Dr. Alvarez wrote in 1955, titled “Dr. Kinsey Needs Our Understanding and Help.”

A public plea for people to embrace the work of Kinsey and his team, Dr. Alvarez rebuked complaints against Kinsey sharing that:

"...he used his vast book profits to further research, had a delightful sense of humor and was a professional, dedicated scientist." 

In his first letter, dated, March 29, 1946, Dr. Alvarez wrote:

“Perhaps sometime I can drop in to visit you and see what you are doing.”

The Alvarez family did finally drop in to visit, 66 years later to the day.



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