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COLLECTION Identifier: gra00079

Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of Gray Herbarium correspondence from the 1890s to present day but the bulk of the letters are from 1890-1955. Also includes Harvard University Herbaria correspondence. Most of the letters are addressed to staff members and were transferred to the archives from office files. Some letters were gifts to the Gray Herbarium or Harvard University Herbaria that were interfiled into the collection.

The letters are from amateur and professional botanists, collectors, prospective students, suppliers, Harvard administration, members of the Visiting Committee, donors, and the general public. Topics include botanical issues such as controversies about botanical nomenclature, routine acknowledgements of specimen loans, identifications of specimens, and general Gray Herbarium business. While many of the letters are somewhat routine in nature, some of the letters provide insight into the lives of well known botanists as well as larger historical events.


  • Creation: 1890-2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1890-1955


Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection may be restricted. For further information regarding a specific correspondent, please contact for additional information.


75 linear feet (7 file cabinets, 3 document 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).


Letters are arranged alphabetically by sender and are often in reverse chronological order. Some letters are filed by company or insitution and not by individual sender.

There is a separate series titled: Arnold Arboretum correspondence about Asian plant collecting, 1920-1952. These materials were transferred to the archives together, and are are intellectually related, so they were not interfiled alphabetically into the larger correspondence collection. The letters are boxed together, arranged alphabetically by sender, and then in chronological order.


This collection was previously called the Semi-Historic Letter Collection. It was officially renamed the Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria in 2016.

The provenance and selection criteria from 1890-1948 is not documented. Starting in 1948 during Reed Rollin’s directorship, files kept in the director’s office were periodically sorted and transferred to a dead file. Materials from the dead file were evaluated and some letters were added to this collection. Identifications of plants and correspondence of a temporary nature were weeded out while correspondence from significant botanists, former Harvard students, and people affiliated with the administration of the Gray Herbarium was saved. By the 1970s this processed seemed to stop until 1981 when herbarium correspondence was again interfiled into this collection.

This collection is actively being added to, mostly through correspondence discovered during specimen digitization projects. As herbarium correspondence is discovered it is transferred to the archives and interfiled in this collection.

In October, 2022, Arnold Arboretum correspondence about Asian plant collecting, 1920-1951 was transferred from the Harvard University Herbaria (HUH). These files were likely transferred from the Arnold Arboretum in the 1950s or 1960s because the letters relate to specimens housed by HUH.

Variant title

This collection was formerly known as the Semi-Historic Letter Collection.

Processing Information

The list of correspondents in this finding aid is not complete. New correspondent files were not always added to the container list. Please contact the repository about potential affiliated correspondents that are not listed.


Gray Herbarium. Administrative correspondence of the Gray Herbarium and Harvard University Herbaria, 1890-2019, bulk 1890-1955: A Guide.
Botany Libraries, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University.
2019 October, updated 2022 November
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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Cambridge MA 02138 USA
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