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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00072

Biographical and autograph collections

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of four collections of autographs and biographies of botanists. The materials are circa the 19th century.

The collections are Mary A. Day’s biographies, Materials about the Jane Gray autograph collection, Miscellaneous autograph collection, and Jane Gray’s and Isabella James’s biographies of botanists. The collections contain correspondence, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, and note fragments.

Mary A. Day’s biographies include approximately 200 biographies of botanists which were probably compiled by Mary A. Day. The biographies are generally no more than a page and some include notes on published works. The biographies are on loose sheets and are arranged alphabetically. This collection also includes a checklist of autographs and handwriting by Mary A. Day that does not seem to be related to the biographies.

Materials about the Jane Gray autograph collection includes a letter and clipping about the donation of the Jane Gray autograph collection to the Gray Herbarium. Also includes three small notebooks containing an index of the letters in the Jane Gray autograph collection in Belle A. Watson’s handwriting and a typed copy of that index.

Miscellaneous autograph collection includes autographs and handwriting samples of miscellaneous botanists. Most of the samples are small snippets or addresses on envelopes rather than complete letters. These autographs may have been compiled by Jane Gray because many of the envelopes are addressed to her.

Jane Gray’s and Isabella James’s biographies of botanists consists of correspondence, brief notes on botanists, Jane Gray’s notes on botanists, an autobiographical sketch of William Darlington, Isabella James’s biographies of botanists, and Belle A. Watson’s indexes to notes on botanists.


  • circa 19th century


Conditions Governing Access

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


0.75 linear feet (1 document box, 1 flat box, 1 oversize folder)

Biographical note

Mary A. Day was long time librarian at the Gray Herbarium.

Jane Lathrop Loring Gray was born in Boston on August 21, 1821, to Charles Greely Loring, a prominent Boston lawyer and Massachusetts state senator, and Anna Pierce (Brace) Loring. In the mid-1840s, Jane met Dr. Asa Gray after attending one of his lectures at Harvard. They married in 1848. She aided Gray in his work, organizing and responding to his correspondence, chronicling his career and eventually publishing a book of important correspondence titled “Letters of Asa Gray” (1893). After her husband’s death, Jane worked to expand and complete his collection of autographs of botanists. Asa Gray started this collection during his first visit to Europe in 1839 and it included autographs given to him by European colleagues and his own correspondents. Jane Gray died July 29, 1909.

Isabella (Batchelder) James was born in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, on September 19, 1810, to Samuel and Mary Batchelder. In 1851 she married botanist Thomas Potts James, a colleague of Asa Gray, and moved with him to Philadelphia. Isabella was one of the first directors of the School of Design for Women, and a philanthropist who volunteered her home as a hospital during the Civil War. She was also head of the Women’s Freedmen’s Commission and the Episcopal Freedmen’s Commission after the war ended. Upon her mother’s death, Isabella returned to her parents’ home in Cambridge to take care of her father. While living in Cambridge, she was chair of the Cambridge Ladies’ Centennial Committee, and wrote articles for various magazines. Isabella died on August 6, 1901, at her home in Devonshire, England.

Belle A. Watson was the niece of Sereno Watson, botanist and curator of the Gray Herbarium. She was a companion to Jane Gray after Asa Gray’s death.


Bicentennial Celebration of Asa Gray, 1810-2010: Jane Lathrop Loring Gray (1821-1909). [accessed 2017 Jan. 14].

Obituary of Isabella Batchelder James (1810-1901). 1901 Aug 7. Boston Evening Transcript. Recent Deaths: 13. Also available online at:


Mary A. Day was a librarian at the Gray Herbarium and she likely compiled the botanist biographies.

The Jane Gray autograph collection was started by Asa Gray during visits to Europe, beginning in 1839, where Gray received many autographed letters from prominent botanists. In 1890 Isabella James donated her collection of autographs and portraits of early American botanists to the Gray Herbarium. The Gray and James collections were merged by Jane Loring Gray and biographical information was added. Those materials comprise the Jane Gray autograph collection, which is cataloged as a separate collection, and was donated to the Gray Herbarium by Jane Loring Gray in 1898. Much of the material in this collection was likely gathered at the same time as the Jane Gray autograph collection materials but were not incorporated into those albums.

The Miscellaneous autograph collection was arranged by the staff of the Herbarium but the materials may have originally belonged to Jane Gray because her name is on many of the envelopes.

Related Materials

Other related material at the Botany Libraries, Harvard University Herbaria:

  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965
  2. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892
  3. Jane Gray autograph collection

Separated Materials

Some letters were removed from Jane Gray’s notes on botanists when the collection was created. Those letters have been placed in the Asa Gray correspondence files, 1832-1892.

Biographical and autograph collections, circa 19th century: 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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