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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 396: M-131

Papers of Alice Rich Northrop, 1883-1924


Diaries, photographs, etc., of Alice (Rich) Northrop, author and botanist.


  • Creation: 1883-1924

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


Access. Originals of #1v-15v are closed; use microfilm M-131. The remainder of the collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Alice Rich Northrop is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


3.34 linear feet ((8 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 1 photograph folder)

The collection consists of bound diaries, a loose-leaf journal (which was dismantled and put into folders for preservation), and small notebooks. Most of these volumes were used as a combination of diary, scrapbook, and field notebook, but a few were travel diaries alone: for instance 7v, which covers the 1906 Central America trip, and 9v, the 1908 Gold River expedition. Northrop saved photographs, plant and insect specimens, sketches, field notes, theater programs, and correspondence, and kept them in her diaries. She was a humorous, keen, and methodical observer of the external world. If her interest extended to the internal world, she did not document it in her diaries, which tended to focus on the practical rather than the emotional side of her life; some of the diaries in the later accession (#18-33) have a little more detail about her thoughts and feelings. Many of the diaries contain the program of outings for her nature study courses. Also included are a photograph of Northrop and her son; letters and clippings on the deaths of John Isiah Northrop and Alice Rich Northrop.


The daughter of Mary (Althouse) Rich and Franklin Rich, Alice Bell (Rich) Northrop was born in New York City on March 6, 1864. She had two brothers and a sister, all younger than she; all three had died by the time Northrop was thirty-four. She attended New York public schools and Hunter College, and then taught briefly in the New York City school system.

Northrop's diaries begin just before her nineteenth birthday and indicate an early and intense interest in nature studies. In 1889, at the age of twenty-five, she married John Isiah Northrop, an instructor of botany and zoology at Columbia University. The couple commenced a series of wide-ranging field trips, but in 1891, almost exactly two years after their marriage, Dr. Northrop was killed in a laboratory explosion at the Columbia School of Mines. Northrop's only child, John Howard Northrop (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1946), was born eight days after his father's death. Northrop suffered a long and severe illness after the near-simultaneous loss of her husband and birth of her son, but then began to rebuild her life. She was by then instructor of botany at Hunter College, and continued to teach there throughout the period covered by these papers. She did not marry again, but raised her son alone, suspending her travels for several years while he was very young; when he was about six she resumed them, taking him with her.

She traveled widely in the American and Canadian West and Northwest, and in Central America and the Caribbean, at a time when most of these areas were considered inaccessible to non-native women, and were still largely unexplored even by (non-native) men. Throughout her adult life she endeavored to make the joys of nature available to people confined to cities, and for this purpose she founded the School Nature League in 1917. The Northrop Memorial Nature Camp was eventually established at her property in Mt. Washington, Massachusetts, to continue that work.

Northrop helped write two books: A Naturalist in the Bahamas, written with her husband and edited by H.F. Osborn (ca.1910); and Through Field and Woodland, a guide to upland flora in New England, edited by O.P. Medsger (New York: Putnam, 1925). She also contributed articles to botanical journals, and gave new plant specimens as well as writings to major research institutions, among them the American Museum of Natural History, the Gray Herbarium at Harvard, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.

Northrop lived most of her adult life in New York State: in Yonkers, and in Columbia County in the Berkshires, where she also had a house. In 1919 she moved to High Meadows Farm near Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where the Northrop Memorial Camp now stands. While she was out with colleagues to complete the arrangements for the foundation of the camp, her car was hit by a train, and she died on May 6, 1922, at Mt. Riga, New York.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 89-M22, 2009-M164. 2009-M164 was added to the collection in April 2017.

The papers of Alice Rich Northrop were given to the Schlesinger Library by her grandsons John Northrop in January 1989 and Geoffrey Northrop in August 2009. Folders #1v-15v were microfilmed with funds from the John H. Northrop estate and from the Friends of the Schlesinger Library.


The diaries of Alice Rich Northrop were microfilmed because of their fragility, and to make copies more widely available.

Undated diary pages were numbered by the processor to aid the microfilmer, the proofreader, and the researcher. In most volumes diary pages are headed by printed dates; in these cases no numbers were added.

Information added by the processor, such as page numbers or dates, is enclosed in square brackets.

The film was proofread by the processor and corrections made where necessary. These corrections may disrupt the sequence of frame numbers.

Although care was taken to ensure that the material be as legible as possible, the condition of some of the volumes and items made microfilming difficult:

  1. 1. Much of the paper is brittle and in many cases sections of pages have crumbled away.
  2. 2. Several of the volumes have suffered severe insect damage, so that parts of many pages are missing.
  3. 3. Many photographs are faded or have been defaced.
  4. 4. Many entries were written in pencil, which has faded.
  5. 5. Several of the books are badly discolored by glue stains and/or chemical reactions with enclosures.

The 1908 journal (9v) was removed from its binder for preservation purposes and filmed as a series of loose leaves. These are filed in folders but folder numbers do not appear on the microfilm. Though filmed in chronological order, this journal is listed out of order in the inventory because it is stored in its own box.

All pages used by Northrop, either for writing or for affixing clippings, photographs, etc., were filmed. Unused pages were not filmed. In dated diaries the dates of the unfilmed pages have been noted in square brackets by the processor. In 8v-15v all of these notes have been filmed. In 1v-7v, when the notes fell on an otherwise empty two-page spread, it may be absent; all of Northrop's material is present, however.

The versos of envelopes were microfilmed only if they contained return addresses or notes.

Loose items that obviously belonged where they were found were filmed there. Other loose items were filmed at the end of the volume in which they were found.

Some enclosures referred to in letters are missing.

In some cases letters are attached to diary pages in such a way that a page or a signature cannot be read.

Some pages had to be filmed more than once for one or both of the following reasons:

  1. 1. The presence of folded and/or multiple-paged items, such as cards, clippings, or programs.
  2. 2. Postcards or photographs that were hinged to make the text on the reverse side accessible.

In some cases, theater programs and other multiple-paged items were not filmed in their entirety, but only the pertinent page(s), with the title page where necessary to establish name and date of publication or event.

Northrop frequently pressed botanical and other specimens in her notebooks. When the specimen was well attached or well preserved, it was left in place and filmed. Some specimens had crumbled so badly that they had to be removed before filming.

Some volume numbers in the inventory do not agree with the volume numbers that Northrop used.

  1. Folders 1v-7v: M-131, Reel 1
  2. Folders 8v-13v: M-131, Reel 2
  3. Folders 14v-15v: M-131, Reel 3


  1. Box 1: 1v-7v
  2. Box 2: 8v, 10v-11v
  3. Box 3: 9v (9v.a-9v.n)
  4. Box 4: 12v-15v
  5. Box 5: 16-22, 24-25
  6. Box 6: 26-28
  7. Box 7: 29-31
  8. Box 8: 32-34

Processing Information

Processed: July 1990

By: Eve Golden

Updated: April 2017

By: Anne Engelhart

Northrop, Alice Rich, 1864-1922. Papers of Alice Rich Northrop, 1883-1924: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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