Papers of John George Jack, 1861-1949.
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Extent.8 linear feet
Born in Chateauguay, Quebec, Canada on April 15, 1861, John George Jack was one of twelve children of Robert and Annie Jack. Robert Jack (1821-1900) was a farmer and fruit grower who, for over 40 years, introduced and experimented with varieties of fruit new to the Province of Quebec. Annie Linda Jack (1839-1912), a poet, author and a noted horticulturist wrote a series of newspaper articles entitled “Garden Talks” and authored “The Canadian Garden; a Pocket Help for the Amateur” (1903).
As a boy J. G. Jack was interested in natural history with a special attraction to insects. Basically self taught with a minimum of private instruction J. G. Jack's formal education included only approximately 6 months of high school. Through his observations and collections he was introduced to a variety of correspondents including Sir John William Dawson, the Principal of McGill University (1855-1893) who helped establish the Peter Redpath Museum of Natural History and who became Jack’s friend and mentor. Jack became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1882 where he made contacts that eventually let to employment at the Arnold Arboretum. Beginning in 1882 and continuing for the next three years Jack spent the winter months in Boston, Massachusetts attending lectures given by Harvard professors including Dr. Hermann August Hagen (1817-1893) a Professor of Entomology and author of “Bibliotheca Entomologia,” published in 1862-63. He also studied zoolology with Professor Alpheus Hyatt and attended lectures on botany given by Professor by George Goodale. In 1883, Jack spent the summer working at River Edge, New Jersey, on the 80 acre farm of Elbert Sillick Carman (1836- ), editor-in-chief of The Rural New Yorker (1878-1964) where Carmen had been conducting experiments on economic plants as well as woody plants since 1877.
In April 1886, Jack visited the director of the Arboretum Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) at his Brookline estate Holm Lea. Promised only manual labor at small compensation he began working at the Arnold Arboretum, but within a short time his botanical knowledge became apparent earning Sargent’s confidence and an increase in his pay to a dollar a day. Jack continued his education by taking the Harvard Summer Course in Botany and attending various lectures. By the terms of the Arboretum’s original indenture, the director, as the Arnold Professor of Botany, was to teach the knowledge of trees at the College. Sargent delegated this function, with the approval of the trustees, to Jack who became Lecturer in Arboriculture in 1890 (the title was later changed to Lecturer in Forestry). Jack taught forestry both at Harvard, often with Richard T. Fisher (1876-1934), the first director of the Harvard Forest, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also held a lectureship from 1899 to 1908. In 1907, Jack married Cerise Emily Agnes Carmen ( -1935), daughter of his former employer, E. S. Carmen, and in 1908 he was made an Assistant Professor of Dendrology at the Arnold Arboretum.
Jack taught throughout his career. In the fall and spring he conducted courses in dendrology using the Arboretum’s living collections as his classroom. Jack’s courses were geared toward the layperson and his amicable disposition made his classes popular. According to Sargent’s annual report for 1890-91, Jack “gave twice a week during the months of May and June, instruction to a class of twenty-six men and women who paid a small fee for the privilege. His lessons, which treated of the plants, in their botanical, economic, and ornamental aspects, were practical and interesting.” With well over 100 citations in Garden and Forest he was also regular contributor to the Arboretum’s Bulletin of Popular Information. Jack also published “Trees and other Woody Plants Found in Harvard Forest” (1911), and “Topsfield Arboretum Catalog of Trees and Shrubs” (n.d.).
Soon after Jack joined the Arboretum he began collecting and documenting plants in the United States and abroad. During the summers of 1898 and 1900, Jack was an agent for the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He explored the forests of central Colorado and the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and produced a detailed documentation and photographs of the forest and soil conditions of the Pikes Peak, Plum Creek, and South Platte Forest Reserves. In 1891, he visited botanic gardens in France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and England and in 1904, he and Arboretum taxonomist Alfred Rehder collected plant specimens and took photographs in the western United States and in Canada.
Already experienced in plant exploration when he embarked on a year-long trip to the Far East in 1905, Jack became the first staff member after Sargent to visit Asia. He focused his travels on Korea and Japan, as political unrest at the time made travel in mainland China dangerous. Although Sargent’s Annual Report for the Year Ending July 31, 1905, states that “Mr. J. G. Jack has started on a journey to the East to obtain material for the Arboretum in Japan, Korea, and northern China,” his year long Asian journey was self-financed. Jack may have planned his trip to spend time with his younger brother, the Reverend Milton Jack of the Presbyterian Foreign Ministry, who had long been stationed in Taiwan. Jack’s introduction to an undated, unpublished manuscript entitled “Notes on Some Recently Introduced Trees and Shrubs” outlined his goals and itinerary for the Asian trip:
"On the first of July 1905, I left Boston for Japan . . . The object of my trip was primarily rest and recreation for three or four months, combined with a desire to observe some of the interesting arborescent flora of central and northeastern Japan . . . A short visit was also made to Korea and to Peking in China."
In addition to collecting seeds and herbarium specimens representing 258 plants, Jack took photographs of individual specimens and of landscape views and returned with 172 images, many of them as lantern slides, a format especially useful for his teaching. Covering some of the ground that Arboretum plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930) would later visit, Jack photographed the forest preserves and activities of the lumbering industry around Mt. Fuji and elsewhere in Japan, as well as the forests of Taiwan and Korea. The scenes he captured in Beijing include formal portraits of people in traditional costumes.
Jack retired from full time employment at the Arboretum in September 1935 at age 74. His wife Cerise died later that same year. Jack spent his retirement at his home “Folly Farm," in East Walpole, Massachusetts with his daughter, Betty Jack Wirth and her husband. In 1948, while tending his orchard Jack fell and broke his hip and was confined to bed. The following year on May 20, John George Jack, Arnold Arboretum Assistant Professor of Dendrology, Emeritus, died at age 88.
- Series: I. Biographical
- Series: II. Publications
- Series: III. Correspondence
- Series: IV. Research
- Series: V. Images
Other Finding Aids
Additional John G. Jack correspondence can be found by searching the Arnold Arboretum Correspondence Index.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Jack, John George, 1861-1949. Papers of John George Jack, 1887-1990: Guide.
- Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
- EAD ID
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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