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Asa Gray (1810-1888)



Asa Gray could be described as the person who established systematic botany at Harvard and, to some extent, in the United States. 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 Manual 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:
Born Nov. 18, 1810 in Sauquot, N. Y.
Studied at Clinton Grammar School under Orlando Kirkland, 1823-1824
Studied at Fairfield Academy one year, probably 1824-1825
Studied at College of Physicians and Surgeons, Fairfield, N.Y., starting autumn 1826; received degree of doctor of medicine in January 1831
Began exchange of plants with John Torrey, 1830
Taught science at Utica Gymnasium, May-July 1832, Jan-July 1833, Jan-July(?) 1834
Collected for Torrey, summer 1833; worked for him in his house, fall 1833
Taught at Hamilton College, summer 1834
Visited Philadelphia with Torrey and collected in New Jersey for him, Sept. 1834; returned to Torrey's house
Worked on Elements of Botany in New York; finished April 1836
Made librarian of New York Lyceum of Natural History, Feb. or March 1836
Planned to participate in U.S. south seas expedition but delays led him to withdraw
Appointed professor of botany at newly formed University of Michigan, 1838
Traveled to Europe to buy books for Univ. of Michigan and to visit herbaria, Nov. 1838- Nov. 1839
Began correspondence with George Engelmann, 1840
Began a new textbook, 1841
Appointed professor at Harvard, 1842
Finished Manual, Dec. 1847
First volume of Genera of the Plants of the U.S., appeared 1848
Engaged to Jane Lathrop Loring, May 1847; married May 4, 1848
June 1848 wedding trip to Washington, D.C.
Went to Europe, June 1850 - Sept. 1851
Botanical Textbook revised 1850, 1853, 1858
To Europe, late summer 1855, for 21 days
Second edition of Manual appeared 1856
First Lessons in Botany and Vegetable Physiology, 1857
How Plants Grow, 1858
Involved in defense of Darwin starting 1859
Field, Forest and Garden Botany, about 1867
Went to Europe, Sept. 1868- Nov. 1869
Went to California and came back by way of Dubuque, June - Aug., 1872
How Plants Behave, 1872
Gift of C.S. Sargent and H.H. Hunnewell allowed him to retire to work on North American Flora, 1873
Traveled to southern U.S., March 1875-April 1875
Darwiniana, 1876
Traveled to southern Alleghenies, Aug. 1876 - Sept. 1876
Traveled to California, July 1877 - Sept. 1877, with Hooker
Traveled to southern Allehenies, June 1879
Traveled to Europe, Sept. 1880- Oct. 1881; received LLD's from Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh
Traveled to Montreal, August 1882 for meeting of British Association for the Advancement of Science
Traveled to St. Louis, May 1884; to Virginia, Sept. 1884
Traveled to Mexico and southern California, Feb. - May 1885
Received vase in honor of his 75th birthday, Nov. 18, 1885
Traveled to Europe, April - Oct. 1887
Died Jan. 30, 1888

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 & Content Note

See Also:
Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection


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