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COLLECTION Identifier: I A-3

“The Controversy” records, 1945-1966.


The collection contains records of the legal dispute between The Association for the Arnold Arboretum, Inc. and the President and Fellows of Harvard College that became widely known as “The Arnold Arboretum Controversy.” After a protracted legal battle the outcome was finally adjudicated by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1966.


  • 1945-1966


General Physical Description note

(10 boxes)

(10 boxes)

Terms of Access

This collection is open for research. Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Terms of Use

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.

Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.


2.7 linear feet
The collection contains correspondence, published and unpublished documents including articles, brochures, reprints, reports, pamphlets, photographs, and newspaper clippings as well as Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Documents dated 1945-1966.

Historical Note

The collection contains records of the legal dispute between The Association for the Arnold Arboretum, Inc. and the President and Fellows of Harvard College that became widely known as “The Arnold Arboretum Controversy.” The records reflect almost twenty years of debate about the legality and wisdom of removing resources, principally herbarium specimens, library materials, and part of the institution’s endowment from the Arboretum’s original location in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts to a proposed building under the aegis of a newly created Botany Department on the Harvard campus in Cambridge. After a protracted legal battle the outcome was finally adjudicated by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1966.

The most active years of the controversy, 1949-1958, produced numerous published and unpublished documents including articles, brochures, correspondence, reports and pamphlets that contained detailed, cogent arguments from both parties. The documents were directed to the Harvard community, other botanical and horticultural institutions and associations, and the general public. Media coverage included Harvard publications such as The Harvard Crimson, Harvard Alumni Bulletin, and Harvard University President's Report. Coverage in major newspapers included The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and The Christian Science Monitor. Articles also appeared in horticultural and scientific journals such as Science, Horticulture, and The Bulletin of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.

The origins of the controversy began in 1945, with the issuance of a report entitled, Botany and Its Applications at Harvard, by Harvard Professor of Plant Anatomy and Arnold Arboretum staff member Irving Widmer Bailey (1884-1967). More commonly known as the "Bailey Report" or the “Bailey Plan,” it proposed a reorganization of the botanical agencies at Harvard and sought to eliminate the duplication of effort and waste of financial resources by creating two broad budgetary and administrative areas. The area of General Morphology would address the herbaria and libraries of the Botanical Museum, Gray Herbarium, Farlow Library and Cryptogamic Herbarium, in Cambridge and the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. The area of Experimental and Applied Botany was to include the Arnold Arboretum, Atkins Gardens and Research Laboratories in Cuba (now the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden), Bussey Institution (During the mid-1960s the Bussey Institution land was taken by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by right of eminent domain and funds of the Bussey Institution endowment were committed by the Corporation to establish a new Professorship, the Bussey Professor of Biology, in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences), Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, Maria Moors Cabot Foundation for Botanical Research (established 1937, ceased 1987 see Torrey, John G., History of the Maria Moors Cabot Foundation for Botanical Research of Harvard University 1937-1987), and the Botanic Garden associated with the Gray Herbarium, a seven acre site on Linnean and Garden Streets, Cambridge (now the location of the Harvard Botanic Garden Apartments and the Herbarium building, Kittredge Hall now houses Harvard University Press), duplicate books and library resources were to be sold and proceeds applied to funds for a new botanical building. The Harvard Corporation approved the Bailey Plan in the winter of 1946, and proceeded with a plan to raise one million dollars for a central botanical building.

In 1949 dissent arose. Professor Oakes Ames (1874-1950) former supervisor of the Arboretum (1927-1935) and Chairman of the Division of Biology (1926-1935), who had originally accepted the Bailey Plan, now raised questions about its legality. The Harvard Overseers Committee to Visit the Arnold Arboretum charged that the transfer of resources from Jamaica Plain violated the terms of the James Arnold Trust that endowed the Arboretum from its inception. These concerns were addressed by the Overseers Coordinating Committee on Biological Sciences chaired by Walter D. Edmonds (1903-1998), a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers from 1944 to 1950. A legal opinion was requested, and Alfred Lowell delivered a report upholding the Plan. Members of the Visiting Committee retained attorney J. W. Farley, whose report rejected the Plan as a "breach of trust." Grenville Clark (1882-1967), who had just resigned from the Harvard Corporation, called in a third lawyer, Robert Dodge, whose report concurred with Farley's. The President and Fellows of Harvard requested a fourth report. Oscar Shaw of Ropes & Gray wrote an endorsement, though with reservations about some details. Action under the Plan was suspended. In late 1952, the Overseers Coordinating Committee, now chaired by Laird Bell (1883-1965), recommended dropping the Bailey Plan regarding the Arnold Arboretum, but still favoring moving library and herbarium materials to the new Cambridge building. The Corporation approved the recommendation in January 1953.

Opponents were not mollified by the concessions made. In 1953, The Association for the Arnold Arboretum, Inc., an independent group of prominent citizens and scholars, many with ties to both Harvard and the Arnold Arboretum, formed with the purpose of testing the legality of the relocation of Arboretum resources. The Association asked the Massachusetts Attorney General, who alone had legal standing to sue a charitable trust, to bring suit against Harvard. When Attorney General George Fingold declined, the Association brought suit in John S. Ames et al. v. Attorney General to compel him to rehear their application.

In February of 1955, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court refused to compel the attorney general to enter a test suit over the legality of the move. Most books and herbaria specimens were transferred to the new building constructed in Cambridge in 1954, later named the Harvard University Herbaria. Erected between, and connected to, the Farlow Library and Herbarium and the Museum of Comparative Zoology, at completion the building housed the Gray herbarium and library, a major portion of the Arboretum’s herbarium, library, and its wood collection in its entirety, The Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium and library, and the Palaeobotanical Collections of the Botanical Museum. Reed C. Rollins (1911-1998), the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany Emeritus and director of the Gray Herbarium from 1948 to 1978 describes the building’s planning and construction in “The Harvard University Herbarium” Taxon 4 (2) 1955.

The Association for the Arnold Arboretum, Inc. convinced the new Attorney General, Edward J. McCormack, Jr. to allow members of the Association to sue Harvard in his name and the suit was filed in 1958. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1966 to uphold the removal of most books and herbarium specimens from the Arnold Arboretum Hunnewell Administration building in Jamaica Plain to the Harvard University Herbaria building in Cambridge by a 3-2 vote.


The collection is arranged in six series spanning 10 boxes. With few exceptions, the material was deposited in the archives in two separate transfers: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Documents were received when the archive was established in 1984; the remaining material was also received in 1984 when transferred from Richard Howard departmental files. The files were merged, with Series 1-5 preceding series 6, with the internal arrangement of each series arranged in the order received when transferred. Series I: The Bailey Report; Series II: Arnold Arboretum Visiting Committee; Series III: The Association for the Arnold Arboretum, Inc.; Series IV: Opposition to the Bailey Plan; Series V: Journal articles and newspaper clippings; Series VI: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court documents; Series VII: Photographs


The majority of the material was compiled and assembled by Dr. Richard Alden Howard (1917-2003) during the course of the legal controversy. Howard began his Harvard career working under I.W. Bailey in 1938 and entered Harvard as a graduate student in Botany the following year. He earned his A.M. in 1940 and his doctorate in 1942 and was a Junior Fellow during 1946-1947 then joined the Biology Department as an Assistant Professor and Arboretum staff member until 1953. In 1954 he was appointed Arnold Professor and Director of the Arnold Arboretum and would lead the institution until 1978.

Related Archival Materials

Arnold Arboretum Archives: IB KS Karl Sax (1892-1973) papers, 1938-2001; IB RAH Richard A. Howard (1917-2003) papers, 1936-2003 Series VII: Controversy; Susan Delano McKelvey (1883-1964) papers, 1900-2005 Series III: Association with the Arnold Arboretum; VI AAA Records of the Association for the Arnold Arboretum Inc., 1949-1972; IX B Records of Scrapbooks and Clippings 1862- Book 12, 1946-1955. Harvard University Archives: UAII 100. Records of the Secretary to the Corporation, 1945-1996 Series: Records related to the Arnold Arboretum Controversy, 1945-1966. Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Archives: Dr. Reed Rollins papers: the Files of Dr. Reed Rollins Concerning the Arnold Arboretum Controversy.

Processing Information

Processed by Carol David, 1996; revised by Sheila Connor, 2011
"The Controversy" records : Guide.

Repository Details

Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository

The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA
(617) 522-1086