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COLLECTION Identifier: HUG 1128.xx

Papers of Louis Agassiz


Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), Swiss-American biologist, geologist, and zoologist, was professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University from 1847 to 1873, head of the Lawrence Scientific School, and founder of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. His papers contain correspondence, clippings, addresses, and many reprints and articles on Agassiz in various publications, including American Naturalist, Popular Science Monthly, Andover Review, and Harvard Magazine, written by biographers and former colleagues and students of Agassiz.


  • 1847-1965 and [undated]

Researcher Access

The Papers of Louis Agassiz are open for research.


1.48 cubic feet (21 pamphlet binders, 7 volumes, 1 half-document box)
The Papers of Louis Agassiz include materials created by him, as well as publications written about him and his work. The collection includes letters to Lowell Institute trustee John A. Lowell and Winthrop Sargent; clippings about numerous topics, including Radcliffe College’s Agassiz House; a 1907 address on Agassiz by Harvard president Charles William Eliot; and materials from a memorial meeting of the Boston Natural History Society held in Agassiz’s honor in 1874. The papers also contain many reprints and articles on Agassiz in various publications, including American Naturalist, Popular Science Monthly, Andover Review, and Harvard Magazine, written by biographers and former colleagues and students of Agassiz.

Biographical note on Louis Agassiz

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), Swiss-American biologist, geologist, and zoologist, was professor of Zoology and Geology at Harvard University from 1847 to 1873, head of the Lawrence Scientific School, and founder of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. He was born in Switzerland and studied at universities in Zurich, Heidelberg, and Munich, receiving his PhD in philosophy in 1829 and his Doctor of Medicine in 1830. Agassiz began teaching at the College of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in 1832. That same year, he married Cécile Braun, with whom he had three children. In 1846, he accepted an invitation to lecture at the Lowell Institute in Boston, and upon the death of his wife in 1847, he accepted a professorship at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University, where he continued to teach until his death. In 1850, he married educator Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, who collaborated with him throughout the remainder of his career. The two embarked on several expeditions together, including one to Brazil from 1865 to 1866 to collect zoological specimens for the Harvard Museum. An account of this expedition is found in A Journey to Brazil, written mainly by Elizabeth. Agassiz's collections then formed the foundation of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, which he established in 1859.

Agassiz was a Creationist who rejected Darwinist evolution and supported several foundational tenets of scientific racism. During his lectures to the Lowell Institute in 1846, Agassiz discussed his support for polygenism, the belief that the human races come from different origins. Polygenism was used by defenders of slavery to claim that the different races were genetically distinct, and therefore slavery was a natural condition for an “inferior race.” At a lecture at the Charleston Literary Club in South Carolina in 1847, Agassiz posited that Black people constituted a separate species. In an attempt to demonstrate what he claimed were physical differences among races, Agassiz hired a South Carolina man named J.T. Zealy in 1850 to photograph two enslaved people in the nude, Renty Taylor and his daughter, Delia Taylor.

He was also an opponent of miscegenation; in an 1863 letter to abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe, Agassiz stated that sexual relations between Blacks and whites were “immoral” and “destructive to the social equality.” While conducting research in Brazil, he commissioned amateur photographer Walter Hunnewell to take over a hundred photos of nude African-descended Brazilians in 1865. Agassiz hoped that these images would help him discredit evolution and, because Brazilians were racially mixed, provide evidence of “racial degeneration” and of the "dangers of miscegenation." Agassiz died in 1873.
Biographical note on Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz (1822-1907), naturalist and educator, was the first president of Radcliffe College from 1894 to 1903. From 1855 to 1859, she ran the Agassiz School for Girls out of her home with husband Louis Agassiz, and in 1879, she became one of the seven Lady Managers of the Society for the Private Collegiate Instruction for Women (also known as the “Harvard Annex”). Agassiz became the first President of the Society in 1882, and of Radcliffe College upon its incorporation in 1894. She resigned in 1900 and served as Honorary President until 1903.

She married Louis Agassiz in 1850, taking care of his three children from a previous marriage. Agassiz accompanied and assisted her husband on his various research expeditions, including to Europe in 1859 and to Brazil from 1865 to 1866. She helped organize and manage the Hassler Expedition to South America and the Galapagos Islands, led by Agassiz, to collect deep-sea marine specimens. Agassiz wrote several books; she co-authored A Journey in Brazil in 1868, and edited and published Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence in 1885. She died in 1907.


This collection is arranged in 26 series:
  1. On Zoological Classification, Miscellany (HUG 1128)
  2. Letters to John A. Lowell, 1847-1876 (HUG 1128.1.15)
  3. Address on Louis Agassiz by Charles Eliot, 1907 (HUG 1128.2)
  4. Morse, E.S.: John Louis Rudolphe Agassiz from Popular Science Monthly, 1907 (HUG 1128.3)
  5. Articles on Agassiz's work in American Naturalist, March 1898 (HUG 1128.4)
  6. E.C. Agassiz: Louis Agassiz: His life and correspondence (HUG 1128.5)
  7. Agassiz and Spiritualism, involving the investigation of Harvard College, by Allen Putnam, 1857 (HUG 1128.7)
  8. Memorial Meeting of the Boston Natural History Society, 1874 (HUG 1128.9)
  9. California Academy of Sciences: Proceedings of Agassiz Memorial Meeting, 1874 (HUG 1128.13)
  10. Clark. H.J.: A claim for scientific property, 1863 (HUG 1128.14)
  11. Cornell University: Proceedings of the unveiling of the tablet to memory of Louis Agassiz, 1885 (HUG 1128.15)
  12. Dexter, R.W.: The Salem Secession of Agassiz Zoologists, 1965 (HUG 1128.17)
  13. Gould, A.B. Louis Agassiz, [The Beacon Biographies, edited by M.A. DeWolfe Howe] (HUG 1128.33)
  14. Gray, A. Louis Agassiz from Andover Review, January 1886 (HUG 1128.34)
  15. Agassiz House Clippings (HUG 1128.39)
  16. Hyatt, A. Personal recollections of Prof. Louis Agassiz Ms. (HUG 1128.40)
  17. James, W. Louis Agassiz, circa 1897 (HUG 1128.42 A, B)
  18. James, W. Louis Agassiz. Reprint from Harvard Magazine, June 1897 (HUG 1128.42.2)
  19. Lurie, E. Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science, University of Chicago Press, 1960 (HUG 1128.51)
  20. Lyman, Theodore. Commemorative Notice, 1873 (HUG 1128.52)
  21. Marcou, J. Life, Letters, and Works of Louis Agassiz, 1896 (HUG 1128.53)
  22. Agassiz, Louis. Reprints, pamphlets (HUG 1128.72)
  23. Agassiz, Louis. A ms. Letter to Winthrop Sargent, 1855 (HUG 1128.79)
  24. Tharp, Louise H. Adventurous Alliance: the Agassiz Family of Boston, circa 1960 (HUG 1128.86)
  25. Wilder, B.G. "Agassiz at Penikese," Reprint from American Naturalist, 1898 (HUG 1128.94)
  26. To the honorable committee of the Board of Visitors of the Lawrence Scientific School in Harvard University, 1853 (HUG 1128.95)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Specific acquisition information, when available, is noted at the series level:
  1. Gift of Mrs. Nora Dwyer, May 1949
  2. Purchase, 1898
  3. Gift of C.M. Warner, 1917
  4. Gift of C.S. Sargent

Related Materials

The Harvard University Archives also holds:
  1. Notes on lectures on geology by Louis Agassiz, March and April, 1860 (HUC 8859.332.53)
  2. Records of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, 1860-1985 (UAV 298.xx)
  3. [A letter written to Winthrop Sargent, Esq. asking his aid in finding specimens of the eggs, the young and the male and female adults of the great snapping turtle of the Mississippi, to be used for illustrations in a forthcoming work on the natural history of the country.] (HU 701.21.10)
In Houghton Library:
  1. Louis Agassiz letters to Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, 1863-1882 (MS Am 1282)
  2. Louis Agassiz correspondence and other papers, 1821-1877 (MS Am 1419)
  3. Louis Agassiz printed material (93M-96)
In the Ernst Mayr Library:
  1. Louis Agassiz papers, 1832-1873 (Microfilm: box 45D, etc.)
  2. Letters from Louis Agassiz to George N. Davis, 1862-1865 (Archives bAg 15.10.13a)
  3. Letter to treasurer of trustees of Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, Samuel G. Ward, with Louis Agassiz's confirmation written on verso, 6 December 1862 and 8 December 1862 (Archives sfMu 1443.10.3a)
  4. New-York tribune transcriptions of 8 lectures given by Louis Agassiz at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, March-May 1873 (Archives sAg 15.80.11)
  5. Agassiz letter books, 1859-1910 (MCZ F890)
  6. Letter announcing the opening of a school for young ladies, 1855 (Archives bAg 15.10.68)
  7. Letters to Auguste Mayor, 1836-1873 (Archives bAg 15.10.34a)
In Schlesinger Library:
  1. Papers of Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, 1838-1920 (inclusive), 1838-1908 (bulk) (A-3)

Processing Information

This finding aid was created by Olivia Mandica-Hart in January 2021. Information in this finding aid was assembled from legacy paper inventories and container management data. The collection was not re-examined by the archivist.
Link to catalog
Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873. Papers of Louis Agassiz, 1847-1965 and [undated] : an inventory
Harvard University Archives
January 25, 2021
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Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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