Alexander Petrunkevitch (b. Dec. 22, 1875, d. March 9, 1964)
came to Yale in 1910 as an instructor, later becoming a full professor
in 1917. Born in Russia, he attended the University of Moscow until he
was forced to leave Russia for political reasons. He finished his
education in Germany at the University of Freiburg, where he met his
wife, an American and subsequently came to the United States.
Alexander Petrunkevitch was the top arachnologist of his time, studying all aspects of spider biology, taxonomy and paleontology. He named and described over 100 spiders never before known to science, conducted studies on fossil spiders and their relatives, and ran experiments on live spiders in his laboratory. Petrunkevitch’s retirement in 1944 did little to slow his research. In fact, most of his publications were produced after he attained emeritus status. His greatest disappointment with retirement was his loss of student contact, through teaching and advisement. Petrunkevitch was greatly known for his weekly “Pete’s Tea” in his laboratory, where graduate students and faculty were welcome to glimpse the hundreds of jars and terrariums filled with arachnids.
Throughout his career, Petrunkevitch remained politically active, and worked to increase awareness of problems in his native Russia. He received many awards throughout his lifetime and was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1954. He was a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Scientists, including a stint as its president, and in 1959 received the Yale Peabody Museum’s first ever Addison Emery Verrill Medal, awarded to distinguished naturalists and sponsors of natural history.