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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00048

Edith Henry Scamman papers

Scope and content

This collection contains correspondence; diaries; notebooks; loose notes; blank and typed specimen labels; card files; color slides; black-and-white and color photographs and one tintype (print); manuscript material; and additional paper ephemera pertaining to Scamman’s family, botanical interests, and work for the Gray Herbarium. The collection also includes materials related to Scamman's death, including funeral arrangements, letters of sympathy, and papers regarding the disposition of her estate.


  • Creation: 1890-1969
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1936-1966


Conditions Governing Access

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


2.5 linear feet (1 record box, 1 document box, 4 card file boxes)

Biographical note

Edith Scamman was born on November 30, 1882, in Saco, Maine, to Henry and Francesca Allen Scamman. Henry Scamman died when Edith was 10. Edith and her mother moved to San Francisco, but soon returned to Saco, where Scamman entered Thornton Academy. She attended Wellesley College and received a B.A. in English in 1907. She went on to study literature at Radcliffe College and received an M.A. in 1909. Scamman spent most of the following 25 years working at her church and caring for her mother. She began to study nature as a hobby and eventually gave talks on plants and shells to local clubs.

After her mother's death in 1935 Scamman undertook a year of scientific study at Radcliffe. She became interested in Merritt Lyndon Fernald’s studies of plant distribution in unglaciated areas of Alaska. She made her first collecting trip to Alaska in the summer of 1936. Scamman returned to Alaska eight times between 1937 and 1954 and collected approximately 5,000 specimens, which she deposited at the Gray Herbarium. She also spent six weeks collecting plants in Iceland in 1938.

Scamman spent the summer of 1939 at the Oxford University Herbarium and was in England at the outbreak of World War II. The experience left a lasting impression on her and she gave a number of talks on the subject after returning to the United States. Scamman continued to work for her church while pursuing her botanical interests and served as president of the Missionary Council of the Congregational Church Women of Maine from 1940-1944. She also served on the American Fern Society’s Overseers Committee to visit the Gray Herbarium from 1942-1946.

Scamman’s interest in ferns was encouraged by Charles Alfred Weatherby. With his assistance, she published “Ferns and Fern Allies of New Hampshire” in 1947. Two years later she was appointed as a research associate at the Gray Herbarium. Scamman made four collecting trips to Costa Rica between 1951 and 1956 to study ferns. She also traveled to Puerto Rico and the French territory of Guadeloupe in 1960. She published four articles on Costa Rican ferns and was working on a fifth at the time of her death.

In 1962 Scamman became an honorary research associate of the Gray Herbarium. She died on November 4, 1967, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Edith Henry Scamman papers, 1891-1966 (inclusive), 1936-1966 (bulk), Gray Archives, Harvard University.

Scamman EH. 1939. Rare plants for herbariums. International Altrusan. December: 11-12.

Tryon RM, Tryon AF. 1968. Edith Scamman (1882-1967). Amer. Fern J. 58(1):1-4.

Series description

The collection is divided into six series by format:

  1. Series I. Correspondence and clippings
  2. Series II. Notes and notebooks -- 31 notebooks as well as loose notes on Alaskan and Canadian plants, New Hampshire ferns, Costa Rican ferns, and natural history.
  3. Series III. Diaries -- 10 diaries, dated 1939-1966; includes loose notes, stamps, visiting cards, and specimen labels; clippings inserted in the diaries have been replaced with photocopies.
  4. Series IV. Manuscripts -- typescript drafts for “A list of plants from interior Alaska” (Rhodora vol. 42, no. 501, 1940), “Ferns and fern allies of New Hampshire” (1947), and “List of ferns and fern allies of New Hampshire” (possibly unpublished).
  5. Series V. Photographic material -- over 300 35mm color slides of Costa Rica and Central America and around 160 black-and-white and color photographs as well as picture postcards of Alaska, Scamman’s home in Saco, Maine, and Scamman, her friends, and family. Slides have been removed from their original boxes and rehoused in polypropylene sleeves.
  6. Series VI. Card files -- 11 card files on Alaska, New Hampshire, and Costa Rica plants and collections.


Alice and Rolla Tryon deposited some of Scamman’s papers in the Gray Herbarium library for safekeeping. These papers were accessioned into the archives some time before 1981. Additional Scamman materials (mostly in Series I and IV) were found in a basement storeroom and moved to the archives in 1983 or 1984.

According to Scamman’s friend, Gladys Merrill, some of Scamman’s correspondence and papers may have been given to the Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine. Some of her Alaska materials were given to George Argus, a curator at the National Museum of Natural Science in Ottawa, Canada.

Processing Information

Processed by Lynn McWhood

Scamman, Edith, 1882-1967. Edith Henry Scamman papers, 1890-1969, bulk 1936-1966: 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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