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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 two forms 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.

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.

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.
Archives, Gray Herbarium, Harvard University Herbaria
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Repository

Harvard University Herbaria
22 Divinity Ave
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2366