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Donald and Miriam MacMillan collection

Identifier: M118

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Scope and Contents

The papers of Donald and Miriam MacMillan (husband and wife) document exploration in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions from the time of Robert E. Peary’s successful North Pole expedition (1908-1909), through both World Wars, and into the modern scientific era. Many of the MacMillan’s 30 plus maritime expeditions to study the region’s archaeology, ethnography, geology, botany, ornithology, and geography are documented, as are those related to World War II North Atlantic efforts.

Materials include correspondence, journals, diaries and other materials relating to expeditions, beginning with Peary’s North Pole (1908-1909) expedition, and the MacMillan led Crocker Land Expedition (1913-1917); personal correspondence between Donald and Miriam; Donald MacMillan’s manuscript drafts for Four Years in the White North (1918), How Peary reached the Pole: The Personal Story of His Assistant Donald B. MacMillan (1934) and other published and unpublished works; lecture materials; photographs; a large collection of charts and maps relating to MacMillan’s expeditions; an extensive collection of pressed plant specimens from the 1929 expedition to Baffin Land and Labrador; notecards for MacMillan’s Inuit language dictionary; and materials concerning the building, use, and restoration of the schooner Bowdoin.

Miriam MacMillan's materials include manuscript drafts for Green Seas and White Ice (1948) and other published and unpublished works, notebooks and diaries kept during arctic expeditions, and scrapbooks chronicling her husband's achievements.

Principal correspondents include Everett Allen, George Borup, Bowdoin College presidents and other personnel, David L. Brainard, William D. Coolidge, Janet and Russell Doubleday, Charles Cabot Easton, Alfred Fenton, A.W. Greely, Gilbert and Melville Bell Grosvenor, Matthew Henson, Katie Hettasch, Robert E. Peary, Rutherford Platt, Marie Peary Stafford.


  • Creation: 1875 - 2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1908-1987


Use of Digital Collections

Digital materials may be used for research, educational, and non-commercial purposes without our written permission. For information about publication, visit our policies page or contact

Biographical / Historical

Donald Baxter MacMillan was born November 10, 1874, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the younger son of Captain Neil MacMillan and Sarah Gardner MacMillan, a shipbuilder's daughter. After receiving his degree from Bowdoin in 1898, MacMillan served as principal of Levi Hall School in North Gorham, Maine (1898-1900). He later taught at Swarthmore Preparatory School in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (1900-1903), and at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts (1903-1908).

MacMillan's correspondence with Admiral Robert E. Peary (Bowdoin 1877) led to his becoming an assistant to the arctic explorer on Peary’s expedition to the North Pole (1908-1909). MacMillan suffered from frozen heels during the expedition, preventing him from reaching the pole with Peary, a goal he never realized except by plane. Over his 46-year career MacMillan made over thirty expeditions to Arctic regions, traveling over 300,000 miles and conducting important work in the fields of botany, ornithology, meteorology, and anthropology. He charted new territory on the coast of Greenland and across the coast of upper Canada in the Canadian Arctic, training students, performing scientific research and studying and aiding the native people of Labrador and Greenland. MacMillan pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuit language, Inuktikut. In the course of his expeditions, MacMillan established three dental clinics and built a schoolhouse for the Moravian station at Nain, Labrador. The MacMillan-Moravian School (established 1929), a residential school for native Labrador children, was provided for by the MacMillans and run in partnership with Dr. Paul Hettasch and Kate Hettasch.

Over the course of his career, Donald MacMillan lectured throughout the United States and wrote several books, including Four Years in the White North (1918), Etah and Beyond (1927), and How Peary Reached the Pole (1934). He also served in the U.S. Navy as Lieutenant (1918-1919), Commander (1941-1945), and Rear Admiral (1954); was Tallman Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin (1932-1933); and was awarded the F.R.G.S. Special Congressional Medal in 1944. He received honorary degrees from Bowdoin (1918) and Boston University (1937), the Bowdoin Prize (1954), and was educated at Harvard from 1911-1913. Donald MacMillan died on September 7, 1970 and is buried in Provincetown, MA.

Miriam Look MacMillan was born in 1905 in Clinton, Massachusetts, and was the daughter of Moses Jerome Look, a civil engineer, and his second wife, Amy G. Wood Look. Moses Jerome Look and Donald MacMillan were friends, and Miriam looked up to Donald MacMillan and followed his arctic exploration from a young age. They corresponded throughout her young life and were married in 1935 when Miriam was 30.

From 1938 Miriam began accompanying Donald on expeditions to the Arctic aboard the schooner Bowdoin and became an important member of the crew, which often included faculty and students from Bowdoin and other colleges. While Donald charted new territory, performed scientific research, and led ethnological studies, Miriam took many photographs and films of life in Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland. She wrote extensive notes on every trip, which she used later to write published accounts of her experiences: Green Seas and White Ice (1948), Etuk, the Eskimo Hunter (1950), and Kudla and His Polar Bear (1953). She also wrote articles for magazines, including National Geographic and Yachting. Miriam was the chief provisioner of the MacMillan-Moravian School and maintained a close relationship with Kate Hettasch, the school’s teacher. Both Nasson College (1960) and Bowdoin College (1980) acknowledged Miriam’s contributions to Arctic exploration with honorary degrees. After Donald's death in 1970, Miriam moved to Owl’s Head, Maine, to live with her friends, Dr. and Mrs. Edward Morse; she devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides, and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. Miriam served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and worked to promote and raise money for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin in the early 1980s. Miriam MacMillan received the honorary degree of Sc.D. from Bowdoin College (1980). In 1981, she was accepted into the Explorer's Club, one of only a few women accepted at that time. Miriam died on August 18, 1987 and is buried in Provincetown, MA.


107.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The papers of husband and wife Donald Baxter MacMillan (Bowdoin 1898, 1874-1970) and Miriam Look MacMillan (1905-1987), document exploration in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions from the time of Robert E. Peary’s successful North Pole expedition (1908-1909), through both World Wars, and into the modern scientific era. Materials include the MacMillans' personal and professional correspondence, log books and journals, published and unpublished writings, notebooks, scrapbooks, lecture materials, photographs, botanical specimens, Inuit dictionary notecards, maps and charts, and ephemera and realia.


Organized in 10 series: Correspondence, 1884-1987; Writings, Books, and Articles, 1909-1965; Lectures and Addresses, 1908-1985; Expeditions, Research, and Related Materials, 1908-1969; Diaries, Journals, and Logs, 1891-1961; Subject Files, 1875-2014; Ephemera, Miscellany, and Realia, 1860-1885; Scrapbooks and Clippings, 1849-1991; Photographs, 1897-1975; and Charts and Maps.

Acquisition History:

The MacMillans began transferring their papers to Bowdoin College in the 1950s. Donald, Class of 1898, retained a close connection with the College over the course of his career, and the MacMillans were committed to preserving their legacy and ensuring that others would be able to study the Arctic region’s archaeology, ethnography, geology, botany, ornithology, and geography.

Their materials were donated throughout the 1980s, with some materials being retained by Bowdoin’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum for their artifactual and exhibition value, particularly films, audio recordings and photographs, while paper-based research materials were transferred to Special Collections & Archives.

Donald MacMillan died in 1970 and Miriam died in 1987, after her death the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum received the balance of the MacMillan papers, The Miriam MacMillan Bequest, which they processed and transferred to Special Collections & Archives in 1994.

Related Materials

For related collections at Bowdoin College see: MacMillan "Thebaud" Collection; the MacMillan-Snyder letters; the MacMillan-Morse Collection; the Maurice C. Tanquary papers (M328), and Walter E. Ekblaw papers (M327)

MacMillan photographs, motion picture films, and objects from Arctic expeditions are preserved in the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum.


Digitization of materials related to the Crocker Land Expedition generously funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, 2016.

Processing to physically and intellectually unite the Donald Baxter MacMillan Collection and the Miriam MacMillan Collection generously funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, 2020.

Note about Language

Donald and Miriam MacMillan, as well as archivists in decades past, described the native peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland documented within these holdings as Eskimo. Current archival and library standards recommend the term Inuit; while we recognize that this term is overly broad and will seek to identify more regionally specific and culturally sensitive terminology, we have used "Inuit" for supplied folder titles while "Eskimo" has been retained in titles created by the MacMillans.

Processing Information

The reprocessing project to physically and intellectually unite two artificially split collections: the Donald Baxter MacMillan Collection (M118) and the Miriam MacMillan Collection (M119) was generously funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation in 2020. Kate Wing, the Archives Processing intern, with student assistance and support from the library’s conservation technician who assessed and built enclosures for 31 volumes, completed the integration and description of the two collections between January and December of 2020.

Guide to the Donald and Miriam MacMillan Collection
Finding aid prepared by Kate Wing and Caroline Moseley.
Language of description
Script of description
Processing generously funded by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, 2020.

Repository Details

Part of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine 04011 Repository

3000 College Station
Brunswick Maine 04011 USA
(207) 725-3288