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Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950. Papers of Oakes Ames 1901-1950: Guide.

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University


The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University
June 2003

© 2003 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Last update 2016 June 14

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.
Call No.: IB ODA
Location: Archives.
Title: Papers of Oakes Ames, 1901-1950: Guide.
Date(s): 1901-1950
Creator: Ames, Oakes, 1874-1950
Quantity: 8 Linear Feet
Abstract: Compiled primarily during his tenure as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum, the papers of Oakes Ames consist of correspondence, budgets, photographs, and biographical material. Ames served as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum from 1927-1935, a period marked by strengthened research and an increase in staff participation in teaching Harvard courses. It was also under Ames’s supervision that the Herbarium grew to 64,000 specimens. Some biographical information was added to this collection, though it still focuses on correspondence written between 1901 and 1950.


Access to Finding Aid record in Hollis Classic or Hollis.

Processing Information:

Mary Harrison, October, 1995. Edited by Sheila Connor, Archivist, October, 1995. Jessica M. Parr, 2003. Danielle Peloquin, March, 2010.

Acquisition Information:

Provenance: The Oakes Ames Papers were acquired during his tenure as Supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum. This collection was transferred from the Arnold Arboretum’s departmental holdings to the Arboretum’s Archives in 1984.

Terms of Access:

Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.

Terms of Use:

The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.
Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.

Biographical Note

Oakes Ames(1874-1950), an 1898 Harvard graduate and master’s degree recipient, had a distinguished career as a Professor of Botany at Harvard University and served as supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum from 1927-1935. The youngest son in a prominent Massachusetts family (his father, Oliver Ames, served as Governor), Professor Ames developed an early interest in botany, and the collection and study of orchids continued to be his scientific focus. Under Ames’ leadership, the Harvard Orchid Herbarium grew to be more than 64,000 specimens. Ames later became interested in economic botany, studying and teaching about the uses of plants, which included taxonomic, geographic, anthropologic, and agricultural applications.

Known for his diplomacy and fair-mindedness, Oakes Ames oversaw all of Harvard’s various botanical units. He was Assistant Director (1899-1909) and Director of the Botanic Garden (1909-1922), Curator (1923-1927), Supervisor (1927-1937), Director (1937-1945), and Associate Director of the Botanic Museum (1945-1950); Chairman of the Division of Biology (1926-1935) and Chairman of the Council of Botanical Collections and Supervisor of the Biological Laboratory, the Atkins Garden in Cuba, and the Arnold Arboretum (1927-1935). As a professor, Ames was an instructor in botany (1900-1910), associate professor of botany (1915-1926), professor of botany (1926-1932) and Arnold professor of botany (1932-1935). From 1935 to 1941 he was a research professor of botany, and in 1941 he was appointed a research professor of botany emeritus.

Ames’ tenure as Supervisor of the Arnold Arboretum was marked by the strengthening of research activities (which were more closely coordinated with the botanical work in Cambridge), as well as greater involvement of Arboretum staff members in teaching at Harvard. His research staff appointments included a plant pathologist, a plant breeder to develop new varieties of trees and shrubs, a plant ecologist, and an experimental taxonomist to broaden the approach of plant classification and distribution. The Arboretum staff taught courses in taxonomy, cytology, ecology, and plant pathology.

Professor Ames was born in North Easton, Massachusetts on September 26, 1874 and he died in Ormond, Florida, on April 28, 1950.

Reference: Sax, Karl. "Oakes Ames, 1874-1950." Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 31: 335-337, followed by list of publications, 337-349.

Scope and Content

The Oakes Ames (1874-1950) Papers largely consist of correspondence from 1901-1950 with some biographical material, budgets, photographs, and ephemera (orchid Christmas cards). The letters reflect Prof. Ames’ leadership initiatives taken during his supervisory years at the Arnold Arboretum.

Biographical material was added to the collection including photographs of Oakes Ames, obituaries, and the publication Oakes Ames: Jottings of a Harvard Botanist 1874-1950, edited by Pauline Ames Plimpton.


The Oakes Ames collection is organized in 4 series:


See also Harvard Archives HUG4139.xx
for additional Ames papers. (12 containers of manuscripts)

Container List

Alphabetical List of Correspondences, 1901-1950.