Failure of Anthropology Days Reflects 1904 World’s Fair

Dublin Core


Failure of Anthropology Days Reflects 1904 World’s Fair


By Dave Showalter

Anthropology Days at the 1904 World’s Fair were a bridge between the Olympics and the Philippine Exposition. Filipino participants competed in conventional Olympic events and in contrived indigenous activities. James Sullivan, who was responsible for bringing the Olympics to St. Louis, and William McGee, head of the Anthropology Department at the fair, spearheaded the event.
Anthropology Days opened with the high jump, long distance running, power lifting, and a few other throwing and running competitions. Sullivan and McGee organized demonstrations in order to prepare the Filipinos in advance. The contestants’ hesitancy led to unexpected results. For example, runners would stop short or go below the runner’s tape at the finish line, and competitors struggled with the javelin throw, much to the consternation of Sullivan and McGee.1

Day two of Anthropology Days consisted of cultural games, presumably Filipino in origin and therefore familiar to the indigenous competitors. Using objects, which ultimately made their way into museum collections after the Fair concluded, tree climbing, archery, fighting, and mud throwing contests failed to bring out the best in the Filipinos.2Instead, like day one, competitors seemed not to understand how events were to be completed. Was this a sign of Filipino resistance the demands of Fair organizers? Or was this an insight into the organizers’ assumptions about what Filipinos do?

Accounts show that the exhibit organizers struggled to explain the sports to Filipinos who participated in Anthropology Days.Sullivan and McGee knew that it had been a disappointing failure.

1 Nate DiMeo, Olympic-Sized Racism (Slate, August 21, 2008).
2 Ibid.
3Susan Brownell, The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism, (University of Nebraska Press, 2008).


Unknown Photographer


St. Louis Public Library

Contributor (August 7, 2012)


No known rights restrictions



Unknown Photographer , “Failure of Anthropology Days Reflects 1904 World’s Fair ,” History Corps, accessed June 18, 2018,