The Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany Archives

 

The William Gilson Farlow (1844-1919)
Collection

 

Biographical Sketch
Provenence & Original Order
Scope & Content Note
Series Description

 

Biographical Sketch

William Gilson Farlow was born near Boston, MA on December 17, 1844. Equally gifted in science and music, Farlow stated at his graduation from Harvard in 1866 that he "had no definite plans for life." By the following year, though, he had come to a decision. He entered Harvard Medical School in November of 1867, receiving his M.D. in May of 1870. In July of 1870, Farlow was appointed to assist Asa Gray, Fisher professor of Natural History. He remained in this position for two years. At that time, botany had not yet been established as an academic discipline, and, as Farlow tells us:

It certainly now seems ridiculous that one who had only just finished his medical studies and knew nothing about cryptogams ... should attempt to teach the subject. But the young are courageous, not to say audacious ... and, it must also be admitted, the demands of students for information on the subject were easily satisfied at that time.

However, Farlow's own desire for knowledge was not yet sated. In 1872, wishing to gain greater botanical expertise, he travelled to Europe, where he studied for two years with Anton de Bary and other prominent botanists in Germany, France and Scandinavia. Upon his return, he was made Assistant Professor of Botany in the Bussey Institution, Jamaica Plains. In 1879, Farlow was appointed Professor of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard. He remained in this position for the rest of his life, continuing to advise doctoral candidates even after his retirement from active teaching in 1896.

Farlow married Lillian Horsford in 1900, and their home became a haven for visiting botanists. In addition to advising guests, Farlow assisted many of his students and colleagues through his voluminous correspondence, which gives evidence of great thought and research. He also published many papers and articles on rusts, fungi and algae. His larger publications include the Bibliography of Articles on American Fungi (1887-8), the Host Index to Fungi in the United States (1888), the Bibliographical Index of North American Fungi (1905), and the Icones Farlowianea, published posthumously in 1929.

Among the distinctions Farlow attained were honorary degrees from Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Uppsala. He held memberships in the National Academy of Science, the London Linnaean Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and was president of the A.A. A. S., the Botanical Society of America, and the American Naturalists. At least two genera and many species have also been named for him. He will be remembered as a pioneer investigator in plant pathology, who helped establish a systematic nomenclature for fungi, and inspired and directed some of America's leading botanists. He founded and endowed the Harvard Cryptogamic Laboratories, Herbarium, and Library, and donated his personal library to Harvard on his death. He died in Cambridge on June 3, 1919.

 

Provenance and Original Order

The William Gilson Farlow Collection comprises all correspondence and other non-book material included in Farlow's legacy to Harvard, most of which was gathered from his office and lab space after his death in 1919.

Major groupings of the materials include correspondence, manuscripts, drawings, publication proofs, spore prints, notes, photographs, and financial records.

 

Scope & Content Note

The collection consists of 55.25 linear feet of material, and includes bound correspondence, notes, sketchbooks, scrapbooks, sample books, photographs, galley proofs, diplomas, and other unpublished materials maintianed by William Gilson Farlow.

Additional materials include notes compiled by Andrew Denny Rodgers, author of American Botany, 1873-1892; Decades of Transition. Rodgers was in the process of writing a biography of Farlow, but did not complete it. The Botany Libraries have retained the notes he made for the biography and the materials he gathered on Farlow as an addendum to the collection.

A. D. Rodger's biographical notes on Farlow comprise roughly five feet of the collection, and include addition primary materials.

 

Series Description

 

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