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COLLECTION Identifier: far00026

William Starling Sullivant papers

Scope and content

The Sullivant papers contain bound and loose correspondence, drawings, manuscript materials, exsiccatae, photographs, reproductions of correspondence, and biographical materials, primarily pertaining to Sullivant’s bryological studies.


  • 1828-1875


Conditions Governing Access

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


1.8 linear feet (1 record carton, 1 flat oversize box)

Biographical note

William Starling Sullivant was born on January 15, 1803, in Franklinton, near Columbus, Ohio. He studied at Ohio University in Athens before transferring to Yale University and graduating in 1823. His father died that year and Sullivant returned to Ohio to help manage the family estate. He worked as a surveyor and engineer and married Jane Marshall. She died less than a year later and Sullivant later married Eliza Griscom Wheeler.

Sullivant began studying the local flora in Ohio and eventually focussed on bryology. He collected and distributed exsiccatae and began publishing on mosses, supported in his work by his wife Eliza. In 1843 he accompanied Asa Gray on a botanical expedition through the Alleghany Mountains. His “Musci Alleghanienses,” co-authored with Gray, was published in 1845. After Eliza’s death from cholera around 1850, Sullivant married Catherine E. Sutton. He continued his studies and released “Icones muscorum, or figures and descriptions of most of those mosses peculiar to eastern North America which have not been heretofore figured” in 1864. He was working on a second volume at the time of his death.

A longtime correspondent of Asa Gray, Leo Lesquereux, John Torrey, and others, Sullivant emerged as the foremost American bryologist of his day. He was a member of numerous scientific societies and was awarded an honorary LL.D. from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The coolwort genus Sullivantia was named in his honor. Sullivant died of complications from pneumonia on April 30, 1873. He bequeathed his books, papers, and specimens to the Gray Herbarium.


Gray A. 1877. Memoir of William Starling Sullivant, 1803-1873. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 1:277-285

Smith AM. 1905. William Starling Sullivant. January 15, 1803-April 30, 1873. Bryologist. 8:1-3.

Series description

The collection is divided into eight series.

Series I. Correspondence, approximately 1853-1872. The series includes two volumes of bound correspondence, loose personal correspondence arranged alphabetically, and letters found in the Sullivant collection.

Series II. Drawings, approximately 1856. Contains original drawings, 10 of which were made to illustrate mosses of the Whipple Survey, as well as miscellaneous other drawings.

Series III. Manuscript materials. Contains four manuscript lists of species, one by Sullivant and three by Coe Finch Austin.

Series IV. Exsiccatae and published material. Contains exsiccatae index and duplicate printed sheets of labels. Also includes annotated copy of Sullivant’s Musci from volume XVII of the Official Issue of the United States Exploring Expedition published in 1874 and four pages of proof sheets of Sullivant’s 1959 edition of his Musci.

Series V. Photographs. Contains four photographs taken near family homes.

Series VI. Reproduced correspondence, approximately 1833 to 1872. Contains facsimiles and typed copies of correspondence; correspondents include Asa Gray, John Torrey, Coe Finch Austin, Georg Ernst Ludwig Hampe, Thomas Potts James, and Léo Lesquereux.

Series VII. Biographical material. Contains Sullivant's will and an obituary and accompanying translation from “Die Natur.”

Series VIII. Ephemera. Contains assorted clippings, an offprint of a species list, family correspondence, and Sullivant’s “Arrangement of the Hepaticae, 1891 June” which is mounted on board.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Asa Gray correspondence files.

Sullivant, William Starling, 1803-1873. William Starling Sullivant papers, 1828-1875: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany specializes in organisms that reproduce by spores, without flowers or seeds. The Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany houses unique resources including personal papers, institutional records, field notes and plant lists, expedition records, photographs, original artwork, and objects from faculty, curators, staff, and affiliates of the Farlow Herbarium.

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