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COLLECTION Identifier: far00028

Roland Thaxter papers

Scope and Contents

The Thaxter papers contain correspondence, notebooks, lists and photographs of specimens, photographs and paper ephemera from Thaxter’s travels, receipts, a commemorative album, manuscript proofs, research materials, and original drawings and plates for publication. Materials primarily relate to Thaxter's work as a cryptogamic botanist and instructor at Harvard.


  • 1880-1937


Conditions Governing Use

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


18.25 linear feet (5 cartons, 33 volumes of bound correspondence, 1 legal manuscript box, 2 flat boxes, and 1 card file box)

Biographical Note

Roland Thaxter was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on August 28, 1858, to Levi Lincoln Thaxter and poet Celia Laighton Thaxter. Thaxter’s parents nurtured in him an appreciation for the natural world and both have been credited for his unique writing style, marked by detailed descriptions, keen observations, and a dry wit. Thaxter entered Harvard College in 1878 and was awarded an A.B. in biology in 1882. An injury delayed his entry into Harvard Medical School until 1884. In 1886 Thaxter was awarded the Harris Fellowship and left medical school to study under Professor William Gilson Farlow. His work with Farlow prompted him to switch his concentration from entomology to cryptogamic botany. In 1888 Thaxter was awarded M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. Thaxter’s first position was researching plant diseases at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He returned to Harvard in 1891 to assist Farlow, eventually assuming full responsibility for teaching and research when Farlow retired from teaching in 1896. Thaxter spent over 40 years at Harvard as Assistant Professor, Professor, and Professor Emeritus of Cryptogamic Botany. In that time he taught nearly a thousand students. His most recognized achievement was his extensive research into the Laboulbeniales. Thaxter worked tirelessly to create a comprehensive monograph of the Laboulbeniales, publishing the first volume in 1896 and subsequent volumes in 1908, 1924, 1926, and 1931. At the time of his death he was working on a sixth volume. In spite of poor health Thaxter frequently traveled in the United States as well as to Europe, South America, and the West Indies to study and collect specimens for the Farlow Herbarium. He was a member of numerous prestigious scientific societies in the United States and abroad and was generally held to be one of the greatest mycologists of his age. The genus Thaxteria is named for him, as are several species of fungi and lichens. Thaxter married Mabel Gray Freeman in 1887. They had four children: Charles Eliot, Katherine, Elizabeth (“Betty”), and Edmund Lincoln. Charles Eliot died during Thaxter's yearlong sabbatical in South America in 1905-1906. Roland Thaxter died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 22, 1932.


Clinton GP. 1936. Biographical Memoir of Roland Thaxter, 1858-1932. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 17:55-68.

Weston WH. 1933. Roland Thaxter. Mycologia. 25(2):69-89.

Series Description

The Thaxter papers are divided into 13 series:

  1. 70th Birthday, 1928 -- contains one portrait album and a bound volume of letters and cards commemorating Thaxter’s 70th birthday.
  2. Bound Correspondence, approximately 1888-1930 -- contains 30 volumes of correspondence arranged in alphabetical order by sender last name.
  3. Correspondence with William G. Farlow, 1880-1919 -- contains three bound volumes of letters from Thaxter to Farlow and loose correspondence from Farlow to Thaxter comprising 577 letters and postcards and a few enclosed items including clippings, specimens, receipts, a telegram, a photograph, and a sketch. Arranged chronologically. Additional Farlow correspondence is located in Series II.
  4. South America, 1904-1908 -- contains correspondence, diaries, lists, receipts, handbooks, maps, and notebooks pertaining to Thaxter's field trip to South America from 1905-1906; additional correspondence is located in Series II.
  5. Specimen Accessions, 1889-1891, 1920-1933 -- contains correspondence related to the purchase or potential purchase of specimen collections.
  6. Farlow Herbarium Administrative Material, 1891-1901, 1908-1932 -- contains correspondence and notebooks pertaining to Thaxter’s work for the Farlow Herbarium.
  7. General Correspondence, 1892-1932 -- contains loose correspondence arranged alphabetically by sender.
  8. Publishing and Research Files, 1886-1931 -- contains a card file of addresses, addresses clipped from correspondence, business and visiting cards, advertisements, clippings, materials from Thaxter's desk, lists, page and plate proofs, and Laboulbeniales notes. Materials do not appear to be arranged in any particular order.
  9. Photographic Material, approximately 1889-1916 -- contains albumen prints, black-and-white photographs, cyanotypes, and picture postcards of specimens and microscopic images, plus two images of Thaxter.
  10. Teaching, approximately 1881-1920 -- contains lists of students, grades, and exam materials.
  11. Field Notes and Collecting Lists, approximately 1897-1914 -- contains lists of specimens and notes on collections.
  12. Illustrative Matter, approximately 1892-1931 -- contains original drawings, plate proofs, camera outlines, and supporting notes for published articles, and some unpublished material.
  13. Student Work and Personal Material, 1882-1919 -- contains materials related to Thaxter’s undergraduate and graduate work, an appointment book, and notices of appointments to different positions at Harvard.


The Thaxter collection was donated to the Farlow Reference Library by Mabel Gray Thaxter.

Related Materials

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

  1. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  2. Edward Angus Burt papers
  3. Carroll William Dodge papers
  4. William Gilson Farlow papers
  5. George Golding Kennedy papers
  6. David Hunt Linder papers
  7. George Knox Merrill papers
  8. Lincoln Ware Riddle and Gertrude Hollister Riddle papers
  9. Arthur Bliss Seymour papers
  10. Levi Lincoln Thaxter papers
  11. Thaxter, Roland. Contribution towards a monograph of the Laboulbeniaceae [original plates] (5 volumes). Call number: Oversize T3685cpo.
  12. Thaxter, Roland. Roland Thaxter Sketch Book, 1886-1893, Bulk 1886-1887, 1886. Call number: RARE BOOK T3685s.
  13. Harvard College Class of 1882. Sixth Report of the Secretary. Call number: T3685h. Written on inside front cover: Thaxter Collection.

Processing Information

Materials in box 9 were added to the collection in May 2022. The collection dates and extent were updated to reflect the new material.

Thaxter, Roland, 1858-1932. Roland Thaxter papers, 1880-1937: 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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