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Oakes Ames papers


Compiled primarily during his tenure as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum, the papers of Oakes Ames consist of correspondence, budgets, photographs, and biographical material. Ames served as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum from 1927-1935; a period marked by the diversity of research and an increase in staff participation in teaching at Harvard.


  • 1901-1950


General Physical Description note

(2 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.


1 linear feet

The Oakes Ames (1874-1950) Papers largely consist of correspondence from 1901-1950 with some biographical material, budgets, photographs, and ephemera (orchid Christmas cards). The letters reflect Prof. Ames’ leadership initiatives taken during his supervisory years at the Arnold Arboretum.

Biographical material was added to the collection including photographs of Oakes Ames, obituaries, and the publication Oakes Ames: Jottings of a Harvard Botanist 1874-1950, edited by Pauline Ames Plimpton.

Biographical note

Oakes Ames (1874-1950), an 1898 Harvard graduate and master’s degree recipient, had a distinguished career as a Professor of Botany at Harvard University and served as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum from 1927-1935. The youngest son in a prominent Massachusetts family (his father, Oliver Ames, served as Governor), Professor Ames developed an early interest in botany, and the collection and study of orchids continued to be his scientific focus. Under Ames’ leadership, the Harvard Orchid Herbarium grew to be more than 64,000 specimens. Ames later became interested in economic botany, studying and teaching about the uses of plants, which included taxonomic, geographic, anthropologic, and agricultural applications.

Known for his diplomacy and fair-mindedness, Oakes Ames oversaw all of Harvard’s various botanical units. He was Assistant Director (1899-1909) and Director of the Botanic Garden (1909-1922), Curator (1923-1927), Supervisor (1927-1937), Director (1937-1945), and Associate Director of the Botanic Museum (1945-1950); Chairman of the Division of Biology (1926-1935) and Chairman of the Council of Botanical Collections and Supervisor of the Biological Laboratory, the Atkins Garden in Cuba, and the Arnold Arboretum (1927-1935). As a professor, Ames was an instructor in botany (1900-1910), associate professor of botany (1915-1926), professor of botany (1926-1932) and Arnold professor of botany (1932-1935). From 1935 to 1941 he was a research professor of botany, and in 1941 he was appointed a research professor of botany emeritus.

Ames’ tenure as Supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum was marked by the strengthening of research activities at the Arboretum coordinated with the botanical work in Cambridge, as well as greater involvement of Arboretum staff members in teaching at Harvard. His research staff appointments included a plant pathologist, a plant breeder to develop new varieties of trees and shrubs, a plant ecologist, and an experimental taxonomist to broaden the approach of plant classification and distribution. The Arboretum staff taught courses in taxonomy, cytology, ecology, and plant pathology.

Professor Ames was born in North Easton, Massachusetts on September 26, 1874 and he died in Ormond, Florida, on April 28, 1950.

Reference: Sax, Karl. “Oakes Ames, 1874-1950.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 31: 335-337, followed by list of publications, 337-349.

Arrangement note

Missing Title
  1. Series I: Biographical Material
  2. Series II: Correspondence
  3. Series III: Budgets
  4. Series IV: Photographs and Ephemera

Other Finding Aids note

Detailed finding aid available. Contact Archivist.


The Oakes Ames papers were acquired during his tenure as Supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum. This collection was transferred from the Arnold Arboretum’s departmental holdings to the Arboretum’s Archives in 1984.

Related Archival Materials note

See also Harvard Archives HUG4139.xx for additional Ames papers. (12 containers of manuscripts) and to see 21 images of the Arnold Arboretum taken by Oakes Ames search VIA

Processing Information note

Mary Harrison, October, 1995. Edited by Sheila Connor, Archivist; October, 1995. Revised 2000. Danielle Peloquin, March 2010.

Finding aid prepared by Liz Francis
Language of description

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.

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Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA