Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: gra00067

George Edward Davenport papers

Scope and Content

The Davenport papers contain correspondence, manuscripts, herbarium sheets, photographs, etchings, a family tree, and paper ephemera. The bulk of the Davenport papers consists of correspondence dated 1872-1907, primarily pertaining to Davenport’s botanical interests.


  • 1872-1907


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.


2.5 linear feet (File cabinet P1, Box 1, Map Case drawer 3, photo collection file cabinet)

Biographical / Historical

George Edward Davenport was born in Boston on August 3, 1833, to William and Deborah Skidmore Davenport. He attended public school in Boston and was interested in botany from an early age. Davenport married Mary Frances Cronin in 1854; they had ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. From the time of their marriage until 1875, they lived in South Boston. In 1875, the family moved to Medford, where Davenport spent the rest of his life.

Davenport joined the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1872 and his focus on ferns developed after a collecting trip with Ebenezer Herring Hitchings in 1873. In 1875 he gave the Society his herbarium of North American ferns which he continued to add to for the rest of his life. Around this time he began to publish his botanical writings. His early articles appeared in the "Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club" and the "Botanical Gazette." His later articles were primarily published in "Rhodora" and the "Fern Bulletin." Davenport also maintained a personal herbarium of fern specimens from around the world.

In addition to his work on ferns, Davenport wrote about forestry and horticulture, publishing over 100 articles and several monographs. It was reported in the 1901 "Fern Bulletin" that he was working on a manual of the ferns of North America. He continued to work on the manual for several years, but it was not completed at the time of his death.

In 1878 Davenport helped found the Middlesex Scientific Field Club, later the Middlesex Institute, which was active in promoting the conservation of the Middlesex Fells. He was a founding member of the New England Botanical Club, a corresponding member of the Torrey Botanical Club, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also active in the Linnaean Fern Chapter, later the American Fern Society, serving as president for one term. He carried on extensive correspondence with both professional and amateur fern specialists, and was consulted often in the naming of newly discovered western American and Mexican ferns.

He also participated in civic affairs, serving on the Medford school board for 18 years. He was also involved in the anti-slavery movement, and was interested in labor reform.

Davenport died on November 29, 1907, while walking in the Middlesex Fells.


Clute WN. 1907. In Memorium. Fern Bull. 15(3):68-70.

Collins FS. 1908. George Edward Davenport. Rhodora. 10(109):1-9.

Davenport GE. 1902. Early Fern Study in America. Fern Bull. 10(4):97-101.

Editorial. Fern Bull. 9(2):44; 1901.

Correspondence and mounted postcard note

Correspondence is filed alphabetically by sender. There is one folder of mounted postcards from various senders at the end of the alphabetical correspondents list. Additional correspondence and letter fragments, including those by listed senders, may be found in the mounted postcard folder.

Series Description

The collection is divided into four series: Correspondence, Manuscripts, Photographs, and John Williamson etchings.

Series I. Correspondence.

Davenport’s correspondence was combined into one series within the Davenport papers for ease of use. Unaddressed letters may remain in the Asa Gray correspondence files.

The bulk of Davenport’s correspondence consists of around 2000 letters to Davenport from about 340 correspondents, dated 1872-1907, primarily pertaining to Davenport’s botanical work. There are also a few letters from Davenport to various recipients. Correspondents are mostly amateur and professional botanists and fern specialists; roughly one quarter are women. Many letters appear to have been mounted at one time and 125 postcards remain mounted.

Correspondents with 40 or more letters include:
  1. Eaton, Daniel Cady - Professor of Botany at Yale, fern specialist
  2. Gilbert, Benjamin Davis - amateur botanist interested in ferns
  3. Lown, Clarence - amateur plant collector interested in ferns
  4. Myers, Florence J. - amateur botanist, active in the Syracuse Botanical Club
  5. Pringle, Cyrus Guernsey - professional plant collector
  6. Robinson, John - botanist, published on ferns
  7. Rust, Mary Olivia - amateur botanist, active in the Syracuse Botanical Club
  8. Slosson, Margaret - botany student interested in ferns, active in the Linnaean Fern Chapter
  9. Stout, William - amateur botanist interested in ferns
  10. Terry, Emily Hitchcock - Matron of Hubbard House at Smith College, amateur botanist interested in ferns
  11. Underwood, Lucien Marcus - professor of botany at Columbia University, fern specialist
  12. Williamson, John - metalworker, artist, and amateur botanist interested in ferns

Series II. Manuscripts.

This series contains seven unpublished manuscripts dating from about 1879-1899. It also contains an index to the shelf locations of Davenport's North American Fern Herbarium and a few herbarium sheets.

Series III. Photographs.

Photographs consist of pictures of ferns and portraits of Davenport, divided into four subseries.

Subseries A. "Ferns of New England." Contains a photograph album with 38 pairs of albumen prints and corresponding cyanotypes and three unpaired images; some images appear to be duplicates. The photographs are of herbarium specimens and were taken by Davenport. The subseries also contains a printed circular offering Ferns of New England specimens for sale and loose photographs from the Ferns of New England series, including 19 albumen prints and 15 cyanotypes.

Subseries B. Photographs for sale. Contains 12 albumen prints of Arizona and Mexico photographs taken by Cyrus Guernsey Pringle and 2 of the Middlesex Fells taken by Davenport. Also contains a printed card advertising both sets of photographs for sale along with their prices.

Subseries C. Specimen photographs. Contains three mounted photographs of plant specimens - two on herbarium sheets.

Subseries D. George E. Davenport portraits. Containing five portraits of Davenport. One portrait, which appeared in Fern Bulletin 15, no. 3 (1907), was moved here from the Davenport correspondence. Four additional portraits labeled in Mary Elizabeth Davenport's handwriting are filed in the Botany Libraries photograph collection (nos. 0091, 0092, 0093, and 0094).

Series IV. John Williamson etchings.

This series includes an unbound set of etchings prepared for Davenport by John Williamson.


The bulk of the collection was donated by Davenport's daughter, Mary Elizabeth Davenport, in 1922 and 1924. Smaller gifts of Davenport correspondence were given to the Gray Herbarium by Davenport’s grandson George Edward Davenport Yantis, Dr. Mildred Faust of Syracuse University, Nettie M. Sadler, and Benjamin Lincoln Robinson. The North American Fern Herbarium index was deposited at the Gray Herbarium in September 1931 by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society; ownership was transferred to the Gray around 1945.

Correspondence: Mary Elizabeth Davenport gave her father’s personal herbarium to the Gray Herbarium in November 1922. Charles Alfred Weatherby estimated that around 100 letters were originally stored with these specimens (see Rhodora. 1924. 26, no. 303: 49-55). These letters were apparently removed and filed in two places in the Gray Herbarium.

A package of about 80 of these letters was found in the archives with the note, "Letters given with the Davenport Herbarium.” With a few exceptions these letters bear dates earlier than the regular Gray Herbarium file; Davenport letters of later dates having been put in the regular file." The “regular file” refers to the Semi-Historic Letters file (now the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium). It appears that correspondence dated after roughly 1900 was placed in the Semi-Historic file and that some letters, including one from Daniel Cady Eaton quoted in Weatherby’s article in “Rhodora,” were lost or discarded.

In a letter to Benjamin L. Robinson dated April 14, 1923, Miss Davenport inquired if the Herbarium would be interested in her father's correspondence. Another letter dated July 26, 1924 indicates that she was planning to send a box of loose correspondence, two bound volumes of correspondence entitled "Selected letters from my Botanical Correspondence 1872-1876 inclusive" and "Selections from my Botanical Correspondence 1877 and 1878," and fern specimens. These were apparently sent in October 1924 along with additional materials.

Correspondence believed to have been part of the 1924 shipment includes:
  1. Around 110 letters from correspondents with surnames beginning with A and B, labeled “Davenport letters - 64 thrown away. CAW Mch 6, 1925”.
  2. Letters from correspondents with surnames primarily beginning with F-H and R-Y; folders were labeled "Kennedy (Davenport 1928 A-F, G-L, M-R, S-V, W-Z)", however, there appears to be no connection to George Golding Kennedy.
  3. Letters from correspondents with surnames primarily beginning with C-E, H-L, and M-R, and around 125 mounted postcards dated from 1873-1878 in folders labeled “Davenport Letters.”

Correspondence from William Stout included in the 1924 gift (see American Fern Journal. 1928. 18: 37-45) was found in the Historic Letters file (now the Asa Gray correspondence files). Additional correspondence from that gift may have been moved there.

Further correspondence between Miss Davenport and Robinson suggest there may be gaps in the Davenport correspondence. In a letter dated February 23, 1923, she mentions letters from several correspondents “regarding a controversy between Professor L. M. Underwood and my father upon the question of nomenclature." It is not clear whether these letters were ever given to the Herbarium. Additionally, Miss Davenport sent some of her father’s letters to family members as mementos and retained many of Robinson's letters to Davenport, only a small number of which found their way to the Herbarium.

Davenport correspondence donated by others includes:
  1. A package of letters given by Davenport’s grandson George Edward Davenport Yantis, labeled "Davenport letters (from Mr. Geo. Yantis) checked by Mr. W 1939-40 to be filed with the historic letters."
  2. 25 letters and typescripts from Davenport to Frances L. Myers dated 1878-1880 given by Dr. Mildred Faust of Syracuse University in September 1966.
  3. Two typescripts of letters from Davenport to Myers dated 1879 and one to Mary Olivia Rust dated 1884 given by Nettie M. Sadler of Syracuse, New York.
  4. One, possibly two, clippings of Davenport’s letters to the ”Boston Evening Transcript” regarding the preservation of the Middlesex Fells given by Benjamin Lincoln Robinson.
The upper left corner of each letter in the collection is coded to indicate where it was located before the correspondence was merged. The code is as follows:
  1. A. Found in envelope labeled "Letters given the Gray Herbarium with the Davenport Herbarium."
  2. B. Found in envelope labeled "Davenport letters (from Mr. Geo. Yantis)..."
  3. C. Found in envelope labeled “Davenport letters - 64 thrown away. CAW Mch 6, 1925.”
  4. H. Previously in the Historic Letters file (now Asa Gray correspondence files).
  5. K. Found in folders labeled "Davenport letters."
  1. The manuscripts of Davenport’s botanical writings may been included in the October 1924 gift.
  2. An index to the North American Fern Herbarium was given by Davenport to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society with his herbarium; the Horticultural Society deposited the herbarium and the index in the Gray Herbarium in September 1931 and transferred ownership to the Herbarium around 1945.
  1. The loose fern photographs were part of the October 1924 gift; the album may have been donated at the same time.
  2. The portraits were likely all from Miss Davenport. One was given to the Herbarium on October 20, 1928, and at least one portrait was included in the October 1924 gift. Provenance of the other portraits is unknown.
  3. A portrait of William Stout which belonged to Davenport is located in the Botany Libraries photograph collection. Correspondence from Miss Davenport indicates that she donated a portrait of Stout to the Gray Herbarium, but it is not clear if this is the portrait to which she refers.
  1. A set of spore slides was sent with the October 1924 gift; what became of them is unknown.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria
  1. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  2. Botany Libraries portrait collection
  3. Jane Gray autograph collection
Letters from Davenport in the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965
  1. Baker, John Gilbert, 3 letters
  2. Conant, Woodbury Page, 3 letters
  3. Farlow, William Gilson, 1 letter (Folder 7)
  4. Hall, Franklin Wilson, 1 letter
  5. Horner, Charlotte Nichols (née Saunders), 5 letters
  6. Hosmer, Jane, 2 letters
  7. Leggett, William Henry, 1 letter
  8. Terry, Emily (née Hitchcock), 2 letters (Folder 2)
  9. Tilton, George Henry, 2 letters
  10. Woolson, Grace A., 5 letters
Davenport, Geo. E. (George Edward), 1833-1907. George Edward Davenport papers, 1872-1907: 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
22 Divinity Ave
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2366