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COLLECTION Identifier: far00030

William Gilson Farlow papers

Scope and Contents

The collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, sketchbooks and loose drawings, scrapbooks, publication proofs, research notes, spore prints, photographs, financial records, diplomas and certificates, artifacts, and additional paper ephemera pertaining to Farlow’s research, teaching duties, and administrative work. Some material related to the Farlow Herbarium was added to the collection after Farlow's death.


  • 1851-1971
  • Majority of material found within 1873-1919


Conditions Governing Access

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


69.5 linear feet (134 bound volumes, 87 boxes, 5 oversize folders)

Biographical note

William Gilson Farlow was born near Boston, Massachusetts, on December 17, 1844, to John Smith Farlow and Nancy Wight Farlow (née Blanchard). He received his early education at public schools in Boston and graduated from Harvard College in 1866. On the advice of Professor Asa Gray, Farlow entered Harvard Medical School the following year. He received his M.D. in May 1870 and stayed at Harvard for the next two years as Gray’s assistant.

In 1872 Farlow's desire to learn more about cryptogamic botany led him to Europe, where he studied with Anton de Bary and other prominent botanists and visited collections in France, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Russia. When Farlow returned home in 1874 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Botany at Harvard’s Bussey Institution in Jamaica Plain. He became Professor of Cryptogamic Botany and was transferred to Cambridge in 1879. He held that position for the rest of his life.

In Cambridge Farlow founded and endowed the Harvard Cryptogamic Laboratories and established a herbarium and library of cryptogamic botany. After retiring from active teaching in 1896 he continued to advise doctoral candidates. Farlow married Lilian Horsford in 1900 and their home became a haven for visiting botanists. He was a prolific writer, publishing nearly 150 papers. Larger publications include his A provisional host-index of the fungi of the United States (1888-1891) and Bibliographical index of North American Fungi(1905), both prepared with Arthur Bliss Seymour. An illustrated work on eastern North American fungi left unfinished at Farlow’s death was published posthumously in 1929 as Icones Farlowianae.

Farlow’s contributions to botany were recognized internationally. He was awarded honorary degrees from Harvard, the Universities of Wisconsin and Glasgow, and Uppsala University, and was a member of numerous scientific societies. Two genera and several species are named for him. Farlow died in Cambridge on June 3, 1919.


Jackson CL. 1922. William Gilson Farlow (1844-1919). Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts. 57(18):484-491.

Setchell WA. 1927. Biographical memoir William Gilson Farlow 1844-1919. Mem. Nat. Acad. Sci. 21:1-22.


The collection is arranged in sixteen series.

  1. Series I. Correspondence
  2. Series II. Research Materials
  3. Series III. Materials Pertaining to the Bibliographical Index of North American Fungi
  4. Series IV. Materials Pertaining to Icones Farlowianae
  5. Series V. Manuscripts
  6. Series VI. Exsiccatae
  7. Series VII. Academic Materials
  8. Series VIII. Specimen Lists
  9. Series IX. Card Files
  10. Series X. Financial Records
  11. Series XI. Photographs
  12. Series XII. Albums, Scrapbooks, Address Books, Sketchbooks
  13. Series XIII. Professional Organizations and Committees
  14. Series XIV: Medals and Artifacts
  15. Series XV. Oversized Diplomas and Awards
  16. Series XVI. Illustrations


Farlow bequeathed his personal library to Harvard. The Farlow papers comprise all correspondence and non-book material included in this legacy, most of which was gathered from his office and laboratory space. As additional related material was discovered it was added to the collection.

Related Materials

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

  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria
  2. Botany Libraries photograph collection
  3. Edward Angus Burt papers
  4. Walter Deane papers
  5. Asa Gray correspondence files
  6. David Hunt Linder papers
  7. [Icones Farlowianae : a sample of the color lithography].
  8. Icones Farlowianae watercolor illustrations.
  9. Louis Charles Christopher Krieger glass plate negatives.
  10. Roland Thaxter papers

Processing Information

This collection was minimally processed in the 1980s. It was partially re-processed with a new organizational structure in the mid 2000s. In 2019 the collection was fully processed.

Farlow, W. G. (William Gilson), 1844-1919. William Gilson Farlow papers, 1850-1971, 1873-1919 (bulk): 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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