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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00046

Benjamin Lincoln Robinson papers

Scope and Content

The Robinson papers contain notes, collecting lists, unpublished manuscript material, correspondence, and certificates pertaining to Robinson’s education, botanical work, and membership in scientific societies. Materials are arranged by format and subject.


  • 1878-1935

Conditions Governing Access

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


1.3 linear feet (3 boxes, 1 folder in Shared Oversize Box 1, flat file, and filing cabinet 11)


Benjamin Lincoln Robinson was born on November 8, 1864, in Bloomington, Illinois, the youngest of eight children of James Harvey and Latricia Maria Robinson (née Drake). He attended public school and Illinois Normal School before entering Williams College in 1883. Dissatisfied with the opportunities at Williams, Robinson transferred to Harvard College in 1884 and graduated three years later. Shortly after graduation Robinson married Margaret Louise Casson. The couple traveled to Europe and settled in Strasbourg, France, where Robinson began graduate studies with Hermann zu Solms-Laubach in the fall of 1887. He received a Ph.D. in 1889 and returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1890 to take a position as assistant to Sereno Watson at the Harvard University Herbarium at the Harvard Botanic Garden.

After Watson’s death in 1892 Robinson became curator of the herbarium, a position he retained for nearly the rest of his life. He was appointed Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany in 1899 but was never active in teaching, focusing instead on his responsibilities as curator. Much of his energy was directed at completing the work started by his predecessors. He published two fascicles of Asa Gray’s “Synoptical Flora of North America” in 1895 and 1897, and collaborated with Merritt Lyndon Fernald on the seventh edition of “Gray’s New Manual of Botany,” published in 1908.

Robinson also oversaw the separation of the herbarium from the Botanic Garden and the organization of the Gray Herbarium in 1897. He attempted to have a new herbarium building constructed but was unsuccessful, eventually settling for reconstructing the building at the Botanic Garden. He did much of the design work himself and the construction was completed in 1915. Robinson was also responsible for establishing and growing a permanent endowment for the Gray Herbarium.

Robinson was a founding member of the New England Botanic Club and served for 30 years as editor of the Club’s journal “Rhodora.” He published over 200 scientific papers in his lifetime. He took an active role in the discussions of nomenclature at International Botanical Congresses and traveled to Europe several times to participate in congresses and visit herbaria. Robinson was in poor health for the last few years of his life and was further weakened by the death of his wife in 1932. He died on July 27, 1935, at his summer home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.


Fernald ML. 1937. Benjamin Lincoln Robinson. Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts. 71(10):539-542.

Series Description

Series I. Notebooks primarily contain notes from Robinson’s visits to European herbaria in 1905, 1910, and 1927-1928; one notebook contains notes on American herbaria visited in 1916.

Series II. Plant notes consist of a ledger book list of plants collected in southern New Hampshire and southern Vermont, and a book containing labels for Robinson's 1894 collections in Newfoundland.

Series III. Manuscript material includes notes on Leguminosae for the unpublished 3rd fascicle of “Synoptical Flora of North America,” drafts on Eupatorium intended for “Das Pflanzenreich,” notes on the Cocos Island flora possibly intended to expand Robinson's “Flora of the Galapagos Islands” (including a hand-drawn map of the island by Henri François Pittier and a portion of manuscript by William Gilson Farlow), a draft of a talk delivered to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the winter of 1918-1919, and a number of keys and other manuscripts pertaining to Eupatorium. Manuscripts appear to have been carefully reviewed by Robinson. Many bear notes indicating why they were retained. There are no manuscripts of published works.

Series IV. Gray's Manual revision material contains correspondence and notes pertaining to corrections of the 7th edition of Asa Gray's “New Manual of Botany.”

Series V. Diplomas and membership certificates and related correspondence.

Series VI. Original artwork contains one pencil drawing.


The bulk of Robinson’s papers appear to have been specifically set aside by Robinson as historical records. No formal record of provenance has been found.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:
  1. Merritt Lyndon Fernald papers. Contains a draft for a revision of Asa Gray’s “Field, forest and garden botany” on which Fernald and Robinson collaborated, but which was never published; also contains bibliographic notes for the 7th edition of “Gray’s Manual of Botany.”
  2. Charles Alfred Weatherby papers. Contains notes by Robinson and Weatherby pertaining to ferns in the 8th edition of “Gray’s Manual of Botany.”
  3. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965. Much of this correspondence is Robinson’s.
  4. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  5. George Golding Kennedy papers. Contains correspondence.

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood

Robinson, Benjamin Lincoln, 1864-1935. Benjamin Lincoln Robinson papers, 1887-1934: 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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