Electronic Theses and Dissertations




Rita M. Hall



Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Charles W. Crawford

Committee Member

Beverly G. Bond

Committee Member

James Fickle

Committee Member

Leslie Luebbers


The Memphis Zoo was founded in 1906 and has developed over the past 110 years through three distinctive administrative paradigms. This paper examines the power structures in a semi-biographical, top-down historical approach to seek answers as to why the zoo developed in the ways that it did. The earliest superintendents were pragmatic choices by the Park Commission, selected for their availability, willingness, and interest in or experience with wild animals. Many of them gained this experience through circus work, lending a showmanship air to the presentation of the zoo in its first several decades. The opening of higher education possibilities to veterans following World War II contributed to a trend of professionalization through combined qualifications of related education and experience. Accordingly, the expectations of zoos as learning environs rather than merely recreational venues increased as the educational turn resulted in the rise of the closed system for staff and the diffusion of knowledge to visitors. Simultaneously, the Memphis Zoo joined other zoos in establishing conservation of species as a primary mission as more highly educated staff began to use the zoo as a laboratory for scientific study, a field for anthropological and sociological study, and a basis for scholarly publication. From the public perspective, though, the Memphis Zoo remained a tourist attraction more so than a classroom, and the zoo accordingly incorporated into its mission meeting the expectations of the public. A long-standing realization that the country's top zoos were made so through the support of a strong zoological society led to the most recent iteration of the Memphis Zoo as a privatized, multi-million dollar institution and attraction. This paper examines not only the evolution of the zoo through these phases, but considers the implications of operating a public space as a business, replacing its long history with "living history"memorials to financial supporters and its respect for that history with a profit motive. The historical evolution of the Memphis Zoo and its potential future direction raise the questions:to whom does the zoo "belong," and what does that suggest for its potential?


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.