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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00078

Asa Gray correspondence files

Scope and Contents

This collection, approximately 1820-1904, includes the personal correspondence of Asa Gray and Sereno Watson, official correspondence of other Herbarium staff, and a small amount of correspondence of noted botanists who were not affiliated with Harvard.

Gray correspondence contains letters from several of the most distinguished European and American scientists of the 19th century, including George Bentham, Charles Darwin, Joseph Henry, Joseph Dalton Hooker, William Jackson Hooker, and John Torrey. Letters include important biographical information and also document the early history of botany in the United States. The Darwin correspondence contains a letter to Gray establishing Darwin's precedence in developing a theory of natural selection.

Selected letters of Asa Gray were published in: Gray, Jane Loring, ed. Letters of Asa Gray (1893).


  • 1820-1904


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.


12 linear feet (1 file cabinet labeled H1, 3 flat oversize boxes)

Historical note

The Gray Herbarium originated with the gift of Asa Gray's herbarium and library to Harvard in 1864. Early curators and directors were Sereno Watson (1874-1892); Benjamin Lincoln Robinson (1892-1935); and Merritt Lyndon Fernald (1935-1947).


Arranged alphabetically by correspondent.


There is no official documentation on the provenance of this collection. It is likely that the Asa Gray correspondence files were left at the Gray Herbarium by Asa Gray after his death in 1888 or were presentd as a gift by his wife Jane Gray. The collection also includes letters to Sereno Watson and other members of the Gray Herbarium staff from 1870-1906. Sereno Watson's correspondence is included in this collection because he worked very closely with Asa Gray on Gray Herbarium matters.

Mary Day took charge of a file of historic letters during her tenure as librarian of the Gray Herbarium, 1893-1923. Mary Day and Jane Gray likely curated this collection. It is unknown how later staff or succeeding librarians curated the collection.

Occassionally Asa Gray or Sereno Watson correspondence is found with herbarium specimens. When that occurs the letter is removed from the herbarium and it is transfered to the Archives to incorporate into this collection. A photocopy of the letter remains with the specimen and a photocopy of the herbarium label and barcode accompany the letter.

Correspondence after 1904 that relates to Gray Herbarium business is in the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium collection.

Resources: Robinson BL. Mary Day. Rhodora. 26:41-47.

Boxed correspondence

  1. Oversize box 1: William Henry Harvey (1826-1869).
  2. Oversize box 2: Joseph Henry (1838-1878); William Starling Sullivant (1840-1857).
  3. Oversize box 3: George Engelmann 1840-1884 (oversize correspondence only); John Torrey (1831-1873).

Existence and Location of Copies

Letters of George Bentham, Charles Darwin, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Joseph Prestele, Charles Wilkins Short, Joachim Steetz, Thomas Minott Peters, and Truman George Yuncker are available on microfilm.

Related Materials

Related collections at the Harvard Botany Libraries:
  1. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-1965.
  2. Botany Libraries photograph collection.
  3. Asa Gray papers, 1830-1953.

Variant title

Collection formerly referred to as: Historic letters collection, 1838-1892.
Harvard University. Gray Herbarium. Asa Gray correspondence files, 1820-1904: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
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