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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00012

William Whitman Bailey correspondence and biographical notes

Scope and Content

Bailey’s letters to James Franklin Collins, Professor of Botany at Brown University, comprise the bulk of the collection and pertain to activities of the New England Botanical Club and the Botany Department at Brown. There are around 300 letters, many of which were written to Bailey by other botanists and forwarded by him to Collins.

The remainders of the Bailey materials consist of notes on Bailey's life, an autobiographical sketch and six poems by Bailey, and a flyer for botanizing. Passages of the autobiography were used verbatim by Deane in his memorial of Bailey written for Rhodora.


  • 1884-1914


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.


0.2 linear feet


William Whitman Bailey was born on February 22, 1843, in West Point, New York, the youngest child of West Point professor Jacob Whitman Bailey and Maria Slaughter Bailey. He attended the West Point School for Officers Children.

In 1852 Bailey, his sister Maria, and his parents were passengers on the steamer “Henry Clay” when it caught fire near Yonkers. His mother and sister were drowned in the accident and Bailey’s father died five years later from related health complications. Bailey never fully recovered his own health.

Shortly before his father’s death in 1857 Bailey moved to Providence, Rhode Island, to attend the University Grammar School. He entered Brown University in 1860 and studied chemistry, but did not complete a degree. Bailey held various jobs while he recovered his health but did not become involved with botany until 1867, when he learned Clarence King was seeking a botanist for the U.S. Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel. Bailey applied for the position and was accepted.

In the spring of 1868, after only nine months with the expedition, Bailey’s health failed. He was forced to resign the appointment and was replaced by Sereno Watson. Over the next few years Bailey was engaged in various occupations, including working with botanist John Torrey at Columbia College and studying and teaching botany at the Harvard Summer School.

In 1877 Bailey applied to Brown's President Ezekiel Gilman Robinson to start a private botany class. It was so successful that Bailey was appointed Instructor in Botany for the following year. He became Professor of Botany in 1881.

Bailey married Eliza Randall Simmons in 1881. They had two children, Whitman and Margaret Emerson. He continued to teach at Brown for almost 30 years and retired in 1906 due to failing health. He died on February 20, 1914.


Deane W. 1914. William Whitman Bailey. Rhodora 16(186):97-101.

Series Description

The collection is arranged in two series: Series I. Correspondence; Series II. Biographical materials.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The letters to Collins were given to the Gray Herbarium by Collins on April 6, 1923. The folder of miscellaneous biographical materials was given by Walter Deane in 1918.

Related Materials

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

Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965

Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892

Botany Libraries photograph collection

Sereno Watson papers

Walter Deane papers

William Gilson Farlow papers

Processed by

Lynn McWhood, 1981 December

Bailey, William Whitman, 1843-1914. William Whitman Bailey correspondence and biographical notes, 1884-1914: 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.

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