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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00008

Irving Widmer Bailey papers

Scope and Content

The Bailey Papers consist of notebooks, correspondence, and reviews of his publications. The collection consists of a loose-leaf notebook containing U.S. Army specifications for wooden airplane parts; a collection of roughly 100 letters to Bailey, mostly 1966-1967, with a few drafts or copies of letters from him; a few letters to Bailey about his unification plan, plus a few reviews of his book of reprinted articles and some biographical notes.


  • Creation: 1918-1967
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1966-1967


Conditions Governing Access

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


0.2 linear feet (1 half-width manuscript box)


Irving Widmer Bailey was born on August 15, 1884, in Tilton, New Hampshire, the only child of Solon Irving and Ruth Elaine Bailey (née Poulter). In 1888 Solon Bailey was chosen by Harvard Astronomical Observatory director, Edward C. Pickering, to head an expedition to Peru to select a site for a new high altitude observatory. The family departed in early 1889 and spent two years in Peru before returning briefly to Cambridge in 1891. In 1893 the Baileys returned to Arequipa, Peru, where they would remain until 1905.

Bailey later wrote that opportunities for exploration and observation of the natural environment, indigenous groups, and Catholic Spanish Peruvians as well as lack of formal schooling and playmates had a profound impact on his later interests and activities. At age 13 Bailey was sent back to Massachusetts to begin his formal education at Cambridge Latin High School. He entered Harvard College in 1903, graduated in 1907, and continued his studies at Harvard’s new School of Applied Science. Bailey was awarded a Master of Forestry degree in 1909. Upon completion of his degree he was appointed Instructor of Forestry. On June 15, 1911, he married Helen Diman Harwood; they had two sons, Harwood and Solon.

Bailey spent his entire professional career at Harvard, much of it at the Bussey Institution, which absorbed the forestry program in 1914. He remained at the Bussey until 1931, when he was transferred to the Arnold Arboretum. He retained an office in Cambridge where he worked until retiring in 1955, after which he continued to visit his office to do research.

Despite his position as professor, Bailey’s focus was on research rather than teaching. He is best known for his work in plant anatomy. He published more than 140 papers during his career and received numerous awards, including three honorary doctorates - from the University of Wisconsin in 1931, Harvard University in 1955, and the University of Syracuse in 1961. Bailey was also instrumental in the controversial restructuring of botanical activities at Harvard which divided horticultural and systematic studies between Jamaica Plain and Cambridge and resulted in the construction of the Harvard University Herbaria.

Bailey’s academic career was interrupted only twice, both times for wartime emergencies. During World War I he headed the wood section of the Materials Engineering Department of the Bureau of Aircraft Production at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Bailey's knowledge of the structure and physical properties of wood proved a valuable contribution to the war effort, aiding in the selection of the best woods for airplane manufacture. During World War II he was part of a Harvard Group in Biology working on a voluntary project for the Camouflage Training Section of the Engineers' School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Bailey suffered a heart attack at work in early May 1967. He never fully recovered, succumbing to a second attack on May 16.


Howard RA. 1968. Irving Widmer Bailey (1884-1967). J. Arnold Arbor. 49(1):1-15.

Wetmore RH. 1974. Irving Widmer Bailey, 1884-1967. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 45:21-56.


The notebook of Bailey’s work during World War I was given to the Gray Herbarium by Ralph Hartley Wetmore with additional Bailey files. The correspondence was found in archives files maintained by Mrs. Lenore Dickinson, former librarian at the Gray Herbarium; its provenance is unknown.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965; Field notes and plant identification records, approximately 1804-2000; Botany Libraries photograph collection.

Processed by

Lynn McWhood

January 1982

Bailey, Irving W. (Irving Widmer), 1884-1967. Irving Widmer Bailey papers, 1918-1967, bulk 1966-1967: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard University Herbaria houses five research libraries that are managed collectively as the Botany Libraries. The Gray Herbarium Library specializes in the identification and classification of New World plants with emphasis on North American plants. The Archives of the Gray Herbarium 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 Gray Herbarium.

Harvard University Herbaria
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