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Gray, Asa, 1810-1888. Papers of Asa Gray, 1830-1953 (inclusive), 1830-1888

Archives, Gray Herbarium Library, Harvard University Herbaria
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138

c. 1998 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Last update 2016 June 7

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Botany Libraries
Call No.: gra00026
Title: Papers of Asa Gray, 1830-1953, 1830-1888
Quantity: (13 Boxes)

Processing Information:

Processed by Lynn McWhood, November 1982

Acquisition Information:

The exact route by which Asa Gray's papers have arrived in the Gray Herbarium archives is unclear. It is possible that correspondence to Gray accumulated in files which developed into files of the Herbarium. The letters written by Gray which are found in the collection may have been collected by Jane Gray when she was preparing to publish Gray's letters or they may have been separate gifts. The "green box" materials were quite likely given to the herbarium by Jane Gray, with a few small contributions from other donors, such as Walter Deane. the botanical manuscripts probably accumulated at their Herbarium. A few items given by Susan Loring, 27 June 1984, have been inserted in these papers.


Asa Gray could be described as the person who established systematic botany at Harvard and, to some extent, in the U.S. Gray's ties with European botanists, developed through correspondence, exchange of specimens and visits to Europe, combined with his network of collectors in North America allowed him to serve as a sort of central clearing house for the identification of plants from newly explored areas of North America. In this process, Gray was able to build a major herbarium, which became the nucleus of the current Gray Herbarium at Harvard. Gray also influenced American botany by writing a number of botanical textbooks, including very elementary ones for children. Gray's Manuel of the Botany of the Northern United States became the standard field guide. Gray also served generally as a link between American and European botanical sciences. Gray reviewed new European scientific works regularly in the American Journal of Science and Arts, and he was largely responsible for introducing Darwin's theory of natural selection in the United States.

A chronology of Gray's life follows:

References -- life:
Dupree, A. Hunter. Asa Gray, 1810-1888. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1959.
Gray, Jane Loring, ed. Letters of Asa Gray. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1893. Includes autobiography, 1810-1843.
Sargent, Charles Sprague. Asa Gray. Reprinted from the "Sun" newspaper of Jan. 3, 1886. 2 copies bound together, second has corrections written in by Gray.

References -- works:
[Goodale, George Lincoln et al.]. List of the Writings of Dr. Asa Gray. Chronologically arranged with an index, [New Haven, 1888]. Appendix to Vol. XXXVI, American Journal of Science.
Sargent, Charles Sprague, ed. Scientific Papers of Asa Gray. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1889. Vol. I. Review of works on botany and related subjects, 1834-1887. Vol. II. Essays, biographical sketches, 1841-1886.

Scope and Content:

There are several main divisions of the Asa Gray papers; these are largely a reflection of how the materials have been stored over the years.
Letters to and from Gray have largely ended up in the Historic Letters File, which includes letters to and from other members of the Herbarium staff, mostly within the years 1832-1906, as well as a few historical letters which appear to have no direct relation to Gray or the Herbarium. The letters to Gray in this file include important series of correspondence with a number of botanists, both American and foreign.
Manuscripts of Gray's botanical works, published and unpublished, are mostly found in the Manuscript Case. See the scientific writing sections of this finding aid.
Artifacts pertaining to Gray, such as his collecting cases and implements, spectacles, etc. are found in the display case on the landing leading downstairs from the library. For more information contact the library staff. There are a number of photographs and pictures pertaining to Gray scattered about in various locations and not, as yet, fully indexed.
Finally, there are a variety of manuscript (and some printed) materials pertaining to Gray in the "green box" collection. The "green box" collection includes a good deal of biographical information about Gray: the manuscript of his autobiography; journals of his travels based on his letters to the Torreys for his first European trip (1838-1839) and on his wife's letters to her sister for most of the following trips; background material on his early life (clippings, letters, etc.), other people's reminiscences of him, memorabilia of awards, etc.; clippings about him before and after his death; sympathy letters to Mrs. Gray; reviews of the letters collection published by his wife. Letters from Jane Gray's family while the Grays were traveling give some insights into life among upper class Bostonians of the time; letters from Charles Loring Jackson (Gray's nephew) are interesting for their gossip about Harvard.
The "green box" collection also includes a section of Gray's correspondence: letters from scientific societies, correspondence with Harvard, communications pertaining to the Wilkes Expedition, and copies of a number of letters from Gray, prepared for his wife's edition of his letters. There are a few fragments of botanical manuscripts and a number of notebooks containing Gray's notes on specimens in different herbaria, mostly European. Finally, there are a few items pertaining to his published works -- miscellaneous proof sheets, lists of subscribers to the Illustrations of the Genera of Plants of the United States, records of expenses, etc. pertaining to the North American Flora.

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