Library of the Gray Herbarium

Library of the Gray Herbarium




Stephen T. Olney was born on Feb. 15, 1812, in Burrillville, R.I., and received his education in Providence. He started work in the counting house of Isaac B. Cooke & Co., which was probably located in Augusta, Georgia. Later he returned to the Providence area and started the Wauskuck Co., a wollens firms, with Jesse Metcalf. The business made Olney a walthy man, and he devoted some of his wealth to the prusuit of his botanical interests. He published a catalogue of Rhode Island plants in connection with the Providence Franklin Society in 1845, with further additions in 1846-1847. He made collections of algae from 1846 to 1848 that served as teh basis for a list of Rhode Island algae published in 1871. He became especially interested in the study of Carex and developed into an expert in the area. His publications on Carex include the Carex section of Sereno Watson's Botany (1871) in the Report of the Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel led by Clarence King. He built up a private herbarium and botanical library and carried on a broad botanical correspondence.

In his later years, Olney went into a decline: W.W. Bailey wrote that he "was an invalid and incapacitated for business during the last years of his life," and Asa Gray wrote that the end of his life was "obscured and afflicted by mental trouble." Olney died a bachelor on July 27, 1878. He left his herbarium, library and correspondence to Brown University and also gave substantial sums of money toward botanical studies at Brown.



Bailey, W.W. "The Herbarium Olneyannum of Brown University." Bull. Torrey Club 7: 116, 117 (1880)
Barnhart, John Hendley. Biographical Notes Upon Botanists.
Gray, Asa. "Stephen T. Olney." Am. J. Science, 3rd Series 17: 179-180 (1879)
Humphrey, Harry Baker. Makers of North American Botany. Chronica Botanica 21: 192-193 (1961)


Scope and Content:

The Olney papers consist of three very small field notebooks. Two notebooks are covered in leather, and one is missing a cover. the first notebook contains 32 leaves of plant notes dated from May 8, 1841 to June 10, 1845; the notes list dates, general locations, and names of plants found. The second notebook contains similar entries, dated from July 12, 1845 to Sept. 9, 1846; there are also some faded pencil notes on the last few pages. The notebook consists of 32 leaves, with some blank and uncut. The third notebook contains lists of plants found, dated from April 22, 1847 - Sept. 16, 1848. It also contains one page labeled 1870 and one page in the back listing algae in bottles, 1847. There are 48 leaves altogether, and half are blank.

It seems likely that the three notebooks contain notes on Rhode Island plants and that they were used by Olney in preparing his Rhode Island floras.

There are two other groups of Olney papers in the archives:

32 letters, 1845-1876, in the Historic Letters file; these are mostly to Asa Gray, with a couple to George Thurber

30 letters, 1869-1872, with Sereno Watson's papers; these have to do with the determination of Watson's Carices and Cyperaceae from the King Expedition, also a letter by E. Tuckerman (Amherst, MA 29 Jan. 1968) to Asa Gray



The Olney notebooks were found with the papers of Walter Deane, who was an avid collector of botanical autographs. Deane was also a good friend of W.W. Bailey, and it is possible that he may have acquired these.




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