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Richard A. Howard papers


Richard A. Howard (1917-2003) was appointed Director of the Arnold Arboretum in 1954 and would lead the institution until 1978. A prolific researcher, photographer and writer, Howard published more than 325 scientific papers and was the author of 13 books in addition to compiling the definitive Flora of the Lesser Antilles. Howard’s papers reflect over 25 years of leadership and scholarly contributions to the sciences of botany and horticulture.


  • 1936-2003


General Physical Description note

(19 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.


11 linear feet

The collection contains biographical information, budgets, correspondence, research notes, photographs, exhibits, VHS Tapes, 16mm films, and writings of Richard A. Howard.

Biographical note

Richard Alden Howard (1917-2003) the son of Charles Fred (1889- ) and A. Grace Howard (1894-1987) was born in Stamford, Connecticut on July, 1 1917. He spent his childhood in Warren, Ohio receiving a BA in Botany from Miami University in Ohio in 1936. Howard accepted a position at Harvard assisting Harvard Professor of Plant Anatomy and Arnold Arboretum staff member Irving Widmer Bailey (1884-1967) in 1938 and began work on the tropical family Icacinaceae, exploring the evolutionary relationships within this group of flowering plants. In 1933, The Society of Fellows at Harvard was organized through a gift from former president A. Lawrence Lowell that enabled “young men of exceptional ability, originality, and resourcefulness an opportunity to pursue their studies in any department of the University, free from formal requirements.” Howard received one of the rare Junior Fellowship’s from the Society and entered Harvard as a graduate student in botany in 1939 earing his AM in 1940 and his doctorate in 1942.

Howard entered the service during World War II in 1942 and, in 1944, while stationed at Randolph Field, Texas married Elizabeth Audrey “Betty” Solie, (1919- ) who was born in Duluth, Michigan the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Marensius Solie. Completing military service in 1947, he joined the staff of the New York Botanical Garden as a curatorial assistant. In 1948, Howard returned to Harvard as an Arboretum staff member with a five-year appointment as an Assistant Professor in the Harvard biology department. Howard again briefly left Harvard in 1953 to become Professor and Chairman of the Botany Department at the University of Connecticut. Six months later he returned as Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Botany to preside over the contested division of the Arboretum’s books, herbarium, and staff between the Jamaica Plain location and the new botany building in Cambridge.

During World War II Howard served in the Army Air Corps. As an Aviation Physiologist he was in charge of the Emergency Survival Section, Aero- Medical Department of the Army Air Forces School of Applied Tactics at Orlando, Florida the progenitor of the current Air-Sea Rescue Service. His work as a graduate student assisting Elmer D. Merrill in the preparation of his Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific which was researched, written, and published as Army Technical manual 10-420 in less than 8 months served Howard well in organizing and conducting the Jungle Survival Program and was awarded the Legion of Merit for this lifesaving work. Howard continued to serve as consultant to this program and the Arctic Desert Tropic Information Center (ADTIC) as survival training evolved in the different branches of the services. In 1949 he authored 999 Survived; an Analysis of Survival Experiences in the Southwest Pacific published by Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., ADTIC, Air University, 1950.

In 1945, Botany and Its Applications at Harvard authored by I.W. Bailey and known as the “Bailey Plan,” proposed a reorganization of the botanical agencies at Harvard that would, among many changes, result in the vast majority of the Arnold Arboretum’s library, herbarium, and funding being relocated to Cambridge. After some modification and legal opposition in February of 1955, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court refused to allow a test suit over the legality of the move to proceed and most books and herbaria specimens were transferred to the new building constructed in Cambridge in 1954. It was not until 1966 that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled to uphold the removal by a 3-2 vote.

Howard firmly believed in the philosophy of the Bailey Report, the plans for reorganization, and the transfer of material, staff and resources to the new combined herbarium building in Cambridge. It was a difficult beginning for Howard’s administration; two former directors who objected to the Bailey plan, E.D. Merrill (1876-1956) and Karl Sax (1892-1973), who had resigned in protest, remained on staff and many of other staff members had equally strong feelings regarding the proposed changes. As director Howard immediately began building a new institutional order to ensure the Arboretum’s botanical and horticultural future.

The Dana Greenhouses were opened in 1962, providing modern facilities for experimentation in propagation. The Arnold Arboretum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. An Arboretum plant collecting team visited Japan and Korea in 1977, the first such expedition to Asia in decades, in order to collect seeds for greater genetic diversity of imported tree stocks. Howard himself would visit mainland China the next year as part of a delegation representing the Botanical Society of America and would reforge old ties with the Chinese botanical community, as well as make links with a new generation of scientists. Both Harvard and the City of Boston agreed to preserve its historical integrity and use the land only for purposes consistent with its historical character. Under his direction the Arboretum celebrated its centennial in 1972 with a week of programs and festivities that attracted several hundred people from 10 countries, 69 institutions, and 46 organizations.

As a taxonomist Howard’s botanical research would continue to focus on tropical flora. A prolific researcher, photographer and writer, he published more than 325 scientific papers and was the author of 13 books in addition to compiling the definitive Flora of the Lesser Antilles. In the 1950s and 1960s, he played an active role in helping aluminum companies re-vegetate strip-mined ore areas in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Territory of Hawaii. This work led to effective rehabilitation of mined-out lands and proved dramatically that strip-mining for bauxite (aluminum) ore need not be forever damaging to the environment but could, in fact, improve the soil if better crops and land use were established after mining.

Howard received many honors from professional societies as well as horticultural and scientific organizations, most recently the Allerton Medal of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. He was a member of the Horticultural Club of Boston, New England Botanical Club, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, American Horticultural Society, The American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, the Society of Economic Botanist, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Tropical Botanical Garden and was a trustee of the Kampong Garden in Coral Gables, FL.

He was a member of the Botanical Society of America delegation to the People's Republic of China which was the first botanical delegations permitted into China after the revolution. In 1977 he was awarded an honorary D.Sc. from Framingham State College and in 1978 he received one of Horticulture’s highest awards, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Medal.

After 24 years of the leading the Arboretum, Dr. Howard requested to be relieved of his administrative duties in order to continue teaching and writing the remainder volumes of the Flora of the Lesser Antilles. The final issue of his six-volume Flora was published in 1989. Although retired in June 1988, Dr. Howard continued to be an active researcher at the Harvard University Herbaria, and continued to publish taxonomic, botanical, and horticultural works.

Arrangement note

Missing Title
  1. Series I: Biographical Material
  2. Series II: Correspondence
  3. Series III: Administrative Records
  4. Series IV: Administrative Budgets
  5. Series V: Centennial
  6. Series VI: Botanical Gardens and Arboreta Photographs
  7. Series VII: Contoversy
  8. Subseries I: Published Documents
  9. Subseries II: Ivan Murry Johnston Files
  10. Series VIII: Visiting Committee Correspondence
  11. Subseries I: Visiting Committee Correspondence, Individual Members
  12. Series IX: Lectures
  13. Series X: Economic Botany Slides
  14. Series XI: Botanical Hoaxes

Other Finding Aids note

Detailed finding aid available. Contact Archivist.


Materials were compiled during Howard’s Arboretum career from 1954-1980, and upon his death in 2003.

Related Archival Materials note

Additional Howard archival collections are held by Harvard at the University Archives and the Harvard University Herbaria, Botany Libraries. The U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution holds Howard’s collection of 65,000 Kodachrome slides dating from the 1940s until 1990.

Processing Information note

Finding aid template applied by Kayleigh Hinckley, March 2011. Revised by Liz Francis, November 2011, Larissa Glasser and Sheila Connor 2012.

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.

125 Arborway
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA