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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00036

George Golding Kennedy papers

Scope and Content

The Kennedy papers contain correspondence, invitations, picture postcards, daybooks, field notes, manuscripts, photographs, sketches, visiting cards, receipts, certificates, circulars, reports, invoices, clippings, specimens, and printed ephemera related to Kennedy’s work as an amateur botanist.


  • Creation: 1864-1917


Conditions Governing Access

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


3.75 linear feet (File cabinet P1, 1 card file box, and folder in Shared Oversize Box 1)


George Golding Kennedy was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on October 16, 1841, the only son of Scottish and English immigrants Donald and Ann Colgate Kennedy. He was educated at Roxbury Latin School and earned an A.B. from Harvard College in 1864 and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1867. He married Harriet White Harris in 1865. The couple had five children: Edith, Donald (who died in infancy), Harris, Sinclair, and Mildred. After briefly practicing medicine, Kennedy retired to manage his father's medicine manufacturing business, an occupation which provided him with considerable wealth and leisure time to pursue his own scientific and literary studies.

During his time at Harvard, Kennedy studied under botanist Asa Gray. He maintained a lifelong interest in botany and corresponded extensively with both amateur and professional botanists. In 1896, he helped found the New England Botanical Club, remaining an active member and supporter until his death. Together with other botanists, he explored the New England flora on numerous trips around the region, collecting specimens for his personal herbarium and for the Gray Herbarium. He traveled often in North America as well as in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, taking notes on the flora wherever he went. He published several botanical articles and a flora of Willoughby, Vermont, and from 1896 to 1917 kept a detailed account of his activities and collecting trips in journals.

Kennedy had a strong background in the classics and was a collector of rare books. He created an index to plant references in the works of Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare with notes on the historic uses of each plant. The index appears to have been left uncompleted and was never published.

Throughout his life, Kennedy was very involved in the activities of his 1864 Harvard class. He was a member of many societies and clubs, including the Boston Society of Natural History, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Massachusetts Medical Benevolent Society. He served on the Visiting Committee to the Gray Herbarium for 30 years, contributing to the endowment of the Herbarium and funding the building of a new library wing in 1914. Kennedy and his wife also supported many public and private charities and gave generously to family and friends.

Kennedy built a sizeable herbarium which he eventually divided, donating his collection of mosses to the Farlow Herbarium and a collection of over 1,500 plants from the Willoughby Lake region to the New England Botanical Club herbarium. In November 1917, he gave the remainder of his herbarium, totaling almost 13,500 sheets, to the Gray Herbarium. Kennedy died on March 31, 1918, at his estate in Milton, Massachusetts.


Robinson BL. 1919. The Gray Herbarium. In Reports of the President and the Treasurer of Harvard College. 1917-1918: 196-201. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Williams EF. 1919. George Golding Kennedy. Rhodora. 21(242):25-35.

Series Description

The Kennedy papers are divided into three series by format: Correspondence, Journals, and Manuscript Materials.

Series I: Correspondence.

This series consists of around 1,600 letters to Kennedy from about 450 correspondents, dated from 1864 to 1917. There are also letters from Kennedy to various recipients. Content is primarily botanical, however many are personal and financial in nature. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender and chronologically within each group.

Correspondents with 200 or more letters include:
  1. Brainerd, Ezra - botanist and president of Middlebury College
  2. Britton, Elizabeth Gertrude (née Knight) - botanist and bryologist
  3. Collins, James Franklin - professor of botany at Brown University
  4. Deane, Walter - amateur botanist
  5. Farlow, William Gilson - professor of cryptogamic botany at Harvard University
  6. Faxon, Charles Edward - assistant director of the Arnold Arboretum
  7. Fernald, Merritt Lyndon - director of the Gray Herbarium
  8. Floyd, Frederick Gillan - amateur phycologist
  9. Gibbs, William B. - British geologist
  10. Goodale, George Lincoln - director of the Harvard Botanical Museum
  11. Holzinger, John Michael - bryologist and professor at the State Teachers College in Winona, Minnesota
  12. Richardson, William Lambert - professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School
  13. Robinson, Benjamin Lincoln - curator of the Gray Herbarium
  14. Sargent, Charles Sprague - director of the Arnold Arboretum
  15. Williams, Emile Francis - amateur botanist

The correspondence files also contain three passports filed by validating official (William Maxwell Evarts, 1880; Hamilton Fish, 1872; and William Henry Seward, 1864) and few autographs and letters apparently collected by Kennedy (including John Hancock, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cowper Prime, and John Ruskin.)

Series II: Journals.

This series consists of six notebooks containing a chronological account of Kennedy's activities and collecting trips from 1896 to 1917, including field notes and sketches describing weather, flora, fauna, plant specimens collected, locales, and information about colleagues and friends. These notebooks also contain newspaper clippings related to current events, local news, and science. An additional notebook contains records of Kennedy's 1903 and 1905 trips to Europe.

Series III: Manuscript Materials.

Manuscript materials consist of a card index of literary references to plants and a manuscript on the historical uses of plants arranged alphabetically by Latin binomial. The manuscript is roughly 1,500 pages; most pages appear in duplicate. The latter part of the alphabet is less well represented, suggesting the manuscript was unfinished. There is also a manuscript on the derivation of common names of plants.


There is no record of how the bulk of the Kennedy materials came to the Gray Herbarium. The card files and manuscript materials on Shakespeare and Bacon were donated in 1932 by Mrs. Harris Kennedy and in 1958 by Mildred Kennedy.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria: Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892; Archives and Specimens of the Boston Metropolitan Park Flora.

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood

December 1981

Kennedy, George G. (George Golding), 1841-1918. George Golding Kennedy papers, 1864-1917: 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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