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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00084

Jane Gray autograph collection

Scope and Contents

The autograph collection was initiated by Asa Gray during visits to Europe, beginning in 1839. Gray received many autographed letters from Adrien de Jussieu, Augustin Pyramus de Candolle, and other prominent botanists. Many letters are from Gray's personal correspondence. 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 incorporated by Jane Loring Gray and biographical information was added.

The collection contains letters, autographs, envelopes, and images (either engravings or photographs) of botanists, collectors, those who have aided botanical work, those for whom plants have been named, and some entomologists, as entomology and botany are often so closely connected in investigations. The correspondence and images were arranged alphabetically into five bound volumes by Jane Gray. Loose correspondence is in a separate box. Approximately fifty people are represented in both a bound volume and the loose correspondence. The collection also includes a handwritten index.

Jane Gray created hand written page labels and attempted to notate for each person their birth and death dates, their position, their distinguishing work, any plants named for them, their record in Pritzel's Thesaurus, and where the collections may be located. In addition, she noted those persons who aided John Torrey and Asa Gray in compiling the Flora of North America.

Jane Gray mostly limited the collection to materials collected by Asa Gray and Isabella B. James. However, in some cases where Asa Gray had portraits and no autographs, Jane tried to supply the autographs. She also added a few of the early collectors in America as well as those connected with the Herbarium since Dr. Gray's death.

The collection was rehoused for preservation purposes and an example of the library binding and box were retained.

Collection includes a 1752 letter from American botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) to Dutch botanist John Frederic Gronovius (1690-1762) about water mill functions, fish and reptiles found near sand banks, and Benjamin Franklin’s quest to acquire Dutch translations of his works; a note possibly by his son, naturalist William Bartram (1739-1823), to an unnamed recipient, explaining why he will not join an expedition proposed by Sir Joseph Banks (1739-1823), circa 1777; and a 1782 letter by English botanist Peter Collinson (1694-1768) accompanying a donation of books to the Library Company of Philadelphia.


  • 1563-1908
  • Majority of material found in 1760-1898


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.


2.2 linear feet (6 volumes in flat oversize boxes, 1 volume, 1 half-width manuscript box)

Biographical note

Jane Lathrop Loring Gray:

Jane Lathrop Loring was born on August 27, 1821, to Charles Greely Loring, a prominent Boston attorney, and Anna (Pierce) Brace Loring. Though the family lived in Boston, Jane spent a good deal of time with her mother’s family in Litchfield, Connecticut. After her mother’s death in 1836, Jane ran her father’s house in Boston. She married Harvard botanist Asa Gray on May 4, 1848 and lived with him at a house in the Harvard Botanic Garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Jane suffered from poor health for most of her life. She and Asa never had children, but she took an active interest in her husband’s work and accompanied him on most of his voyages, chronicling their travels in letters to her family. While living in Cambridge, she was a member of the Female Humane Society of Cambridge, which was founded to assist indigent women. She also corresponded with many botanists and their families. After Asa’s death in January 1888, she devoted herself to memorializing him, preparing his letters for publication and contributing funds toward the establishment of the Asa Gray Professorship. She continued to live at the Botanic Garden until her death in 1909.

Sources Dupree AH. 1959. Asa Gray. Cambridge (MA): The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Biographical note

Asa Gray

Often called the “Father of American Botany,” Asa Gray was instrumental in establishing systematic botany as a field of study at Harvard University and, to some extent, in the United States. His relationships with European and North American botanists and collectors enabled him to serve as a central clearing house for the identification of plants from newly explored areas of North America. He also served as a link between American and European botanical sciences. Gray regularly reviewed new European scientific works and was an early proponent of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Asa Gray was born in Sauquoit, New York, on November 18, 1810, to Roxana Howard Gray and Moses Wiley Gray. He attended grammar school in Clinton and continued his education at Fairfield Academy, enrolling in Fairfield’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1829. Gray’s interest in botany developed during this time and he began corresponding with botanists Lewis Caleb Beck and John Torrey.

Gray completed his M.D. in 1831 and accepted a teaching position at a boys’ school in Utica, New York. For the next few years he divided his time between teaching, collecting, and working as Torrey’s assistant. His first publications appeared in the winter of 1834-1835. In 1836 he became curator at the New York Lyceum of Natural History. He also began work on a North American flora with Torrey. The first volume of “Flora of North America”was published in two parts in 1838.

Gray was appointed botanist of the United States Exploring Expedition under Charles Wilkes in 1836 but withdrew after the expedition was delayed. In 1838 he accepted an appointment as Professor of Botany at the University of Michigan on condition that he first be allowed a year of study in Europe. He departed in November 1838 and spent the next 12 months visiting herbaria and meeting prominent botanists in Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. Complications at Michigan prevented Gray from starting the professorship there. Instead he returned to New York to work on the second volume of “Flora.”

In 1842 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to accept the newly endowed Fisher Professorship at Harvard. He remained in that position for the rest of his life. In addition to teaching Gray assumed responsibility for the Harvard Botanical Garden and built a herbarium and library. He was a prolific correspondent and writer. His 1848 “Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States” became the standard field manual for botanists in the Northeast and his textbooks were used in classes across the U.S.

In 1848 Gray married Jane Lathrop Loring. She assisted him in his work and accompanied him on trips to Europe, the Allegheny Mountains, and to the American West.

Gray died in Cambridge on January 30, 1888.

Sources Deane W. 1888. Asa Gray. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club. 15(3):59-72. Farlow WG. 1895. Memoir of Asa Gray. 1810-1888. Biogr. Mem. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 3:161-175. Gray A. 1894. Autobiography. In: Gray JL. Letters of Asa Gray. Boston (MA): Houghton, Mifflin and Company.


Letters and images are arranged alphabetically in volumes with handwritten labels by Jane Gray. Accompanied by a handwritten index.

The autograph volumes were bound in library bindings but they were removed from those bindings for preservation purposes. The unbound volumes are now individually boxed. One example of the library binding and library box were retained.


Gift of Jane Loring Gray.

Salt Prints at Harvard project note

The Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard undertook a university-wide project to preserve and enhance access to salt prints at Harvard. Salt prints represent the result of the first negative-to-positive photographic technique, introduced by Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839. The project focused on photogenic drawings, paper negatives, and salted paper prints (positive prints created from paper or glass-plate negatives) found throughout Harvard’s libraries, archives, and museums. The term salt print is broadly used to represent all of these processes.

Seven salt prints were identified in the Jane Gray autograph collection.

  1. Barton, William. Volume 1 on page 100, photographer N.P. Simons.
  2. Fendler, Augustus, 1861. Volume 2 opposite page 102.
  3. Godet, Charles Henry, 1855. Volume 2, opposite page 143.
  4. Gray, Asa, 1855. Volume 2, opposite page 153.
  5. Greene, Benjamin D. Volume 3, opposite page 1. Printed on verso: Seaver & Kingman, Photograph and Daguerreotype Artists. 27 Tremont Row, Boston.
  6. Munro, William. Volume 4, opposite page 40.
  7. Tuomey, Michael, circa 1857. Volume 5, opposite page 77.

Variant title

Collection formerly referred to as: Collection of botanists' autographs and biographies.

Note on names

The finding aid does not use the exact names that Jane Gray used on her page labels because she often shortened or anglicized names. Instead, fuller forms of names are used to aid searchability and do not reflect exactly what is written on the page. Names are from several sources including Taxonomic Literature II (TL-2), J.H. Barnhart’s Biographical notes upon botanists, Library of Congress Name Authorities, or the Harvard University Herbaria’s database of Botanists.

Gray, Jane Loring, 1821-1909. Jane Gray autograph collection, 1563-1908, bulk 1760-1898: 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.

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