Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: arn00012

Lily May Perry papers

Scope and Content

This collection contains a card file and indices used by Perry in her research for “The medicinal plants of east and southeast Asia” as well as reviews and publication correspondence between Perry, Richard Alden Howard, and MIT Press. There is also one folder of reviews and correspondence pertaining to Perry’s translation of H.J. Lam’s “Fragmenta Papuana,” published in “Sargentia” in 1945.


  • 1945-1981
  • Majority of material found within 1981


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available by appointment for research. Researchers must register and provide valid photo identification. Please contact for additional information.


10.05 linear feet (20 small card file boxes, 1 medium print box, and 1 letter size print box )

Biographical Note

Lily May Perry was born in New Brunswick, Canada, on January 5, 1895. She completed her early education at a local school and was trained as a teacher at the Provincial Normal School in Fredericton. After teaching briefly she entered Acadia University in 1919 to study biology and graduated with honors two years later. Perry returned to teaching for three years and in 1924 moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study botany at Radcliffe College.

After completing her M.A. Perry worked as an assistant at the Gray Herbarium from 1925-1930. With the help of Professors Merritt Lyndon Fernald and Benjamin Lincoln Robinson, Perry and fellow Acadia and Radcliffe classmate, Muriel Roscoe, spent the summer of 1929 collecting specimens for the herbarium on St. Paul Island, Nova Scotia. Perry’s article, "The Vascular Flora of St. Paul Island,", was published in 1931.

Perry began her doctoral work in 1930 under Jesse More Greenman at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She completed a thesis on American Verbena and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1932. Perry hoped to return to Canada but struggled to find a permanent position. She held short-term posts at the University of Georgia and at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and eventually returned to Cambridge to work as Fernald’s assistant. She became a U.S. citizen in 1938.

In 1936 Elmer Drew Merrill became Administrator of Botanical Collections at Harvard, bringing with him extensive collections from his two decades in the Philippines. Perry spent the next 30 years at the Arboretum working with these and other Pacific islands collections. She collaborated with Merrill on more than two dozen publications between 1937 and 1949. She continued to work at the Gray Herbarium until 1964 and spent her final years there working on the manuscript for “Medicinal uses of plants of southeastern Asia,” published in 1980.

Perry was awarded an honorary doctorate from Acadia University in 1971. She died in Hingham, Massachusetts, on March 11, 1992.


Howard RA. 1992. Lily May Perry (1895-1992). Taxon. 41(4):792-796.


The bulk of the collection, including the card file and indexes, was given to the Harvard University Herbaria upon Perry's death in 1992. Additional materials, including correspondence and reviews, were transferred from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University Archives in the early 2000’s. Four photographs of Perry were included in the transfer and have been moved to the Botany Libraries photograph collection.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Botany Libraries photograph collection

Perry, Lily May, 1895-1992. Lily May Perry papers, 1945-1981, bulk 1981: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Arnold Arboretum Library (Cambridge), Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Arnold Arboretum Library in Cambridge specializes in the identification and classification of Old World plants with emphasis on Asia. The Archives of the Arnold Arboretum (Cambridge) houses unique resources, primarily field notes related to the plant specimens housed in Cambridge.

Harvard University Herbaria
22 Divinity Ave
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2366