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II A-4

McKelvey, Susan Delano,1883-1964. Papers of Susan Delano McKelvey,1919-1964 (inclusive) : A Finding Aid.

Archives of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University


The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: II A-4
Repository: Archives of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University
Creator: McKelvey, Susan Delano,1883-1964.
Title: Papers, 1916-1964 (inclusive).
Date(s): 1916-1964
Quantity: 12 linear feet (12 boxes)

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Susan Delano McKelvey bequeathed her papers to the Arnold Arboretum in her 1960 will. The papers were received following her death in 1964. The HOLLIS # for this collection is 000603225 and the file name is ajp00030.

Conditions Governing 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. Materials pertaining to McKelvey's research on Yuccas are currently held at the Library of the Gray Herbarium in Cambridge, MA. Researchers wishing access Yucca-related materials described in this finding aid should contact the Library of the Gray Herbarium directly.

Conditions Governing 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 / Historical

Susan Delano McKelvey was born in 1883 in Philadelphia, PA; a socialite and cousin of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A 1906 graduate of Bryn Mawr, she married a young attorney Charles Wylie McKelvey in 1907. The couple had two sons. She later left New York and her husband to start a new life in Boston. The couple officially divorced in 1930.
In 1919, McKelvey contacted Charles Sprague Sargent, the director of the Arnold Arboretum, and as a volunteer was first assigned to washing clay pots. Sargent later sent Ms. McKelvey on botanical expeditions to Glacier National Park and the White Mountains of New Hampshire with Professor John G. Jack as her mentor. With Sargent's encouragement, McKelvey began to study Arboretum plants under the tutelage of William H. Judd, the Arboretum's plant propagator. Turning her attention to lilacs, McKelvey studied intently and for the next seven years conducted lilac research in the United States,Canada,England and France. In 1928, her book The Lilac: A Monograph was published and she became an authority on the genus Syringa.
With the death of Charles Sprague Sargent in 1927, McKelvey was appointed to Harvard's Committee to Visit the Arnold Arboretum and in 1931 was appointed research associate, two positions she held for the rest of her Arnold Arboretum career. McKelvey focused on the study of yuccas and plants of the American Southwest and botanized extensively in this area on plant collecting expeditions. The resulting work, Yuccas of the South Western United States was published in two volumes in 1938 and 1947. In 1944, McKelvey started her third and last book, the well-received Botanical Exploration of the Trans-Mississippi West 1790-1850, which was published in 1956.
As a Visiting Committee member dedicated to the Arboretum, McKelvey actively opposed the implementation of the Bailey Plan (1945), which diverted Arboretum funds and sought the transfer of Arboretum resources to other Harvard departments. It became known as the Arnold Arboretum Controversy and was played out in a divisive court battle during the 1950s and 1960s. Susan Delano McKelvey died in 1964, a successful botanist, author, and authority on lilacs and yuccas. For additional biographical information, consult the article "A Life Redeemed: Susan Delano McKelvey and the Arnold Arboretum" by Edmund A. Schofield that appears in Arnoldia v.47 no.4 Fall 1987 pp.9-23.


The McKelvey papers were willed to the Arnold Arboretum in 1960 and remain largely in their original order by subject. The collection is arranged into six series: Series I: Biographical Material (added by Arboretum staff) Series II: Correspondence Series III: Association with the Arnold Arboretum - Arnold Arboretum Controversy and Visiting Committee Series IV: Publications & Related Research Series V: Collected Works Series VI: Photographs & Negatives

Scope and Contents

The McKelvey papers span the years 1919-1964 and include articles, research papers and notes, correspondence,photographs,maps and manuscripts. The collection reflects her activities as a member of the Arboretum Visiting committee, a research associate working with lilacs and yuccas, and a botanical explorer of the Southwestern United States. Dedicated to the Arnold Arboretum, McKelvey was an active supporter of the Arboretum through a divisive court battle of the 1950s and 1960s known as the Arnold Arboretum Controversy.


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