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Caroline Kathryn (C. K.) Allen (1904-1975)

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1.3 linear feet (3 boxes)


Dr. Caroline Kathryn (C. K.) Allen (1904-1975) was a taxonomist specializing in Lauraceae. She served the New York Botanical Garden as an honorary Collaborator in Lauraceae from 1951 to 1959 and as a Research Associate from 1959 to 1974. In the course of her career she described over 275 new species, wrote numerous journal articles and contributed sections on Lauraceae in fourteen Flora from Panama to Okinawa; collaborating with authorities such as Bassett Maguire, E. D. Merrill, J. A. Steyermark, E. H. Walker, and Robert E. Woodson. An accomplished botanical artist, she often illustrated her own articles and used her skills to record the microscopic dissections demonstrating the distinctions among the genera of Nectandra, Ocotea and Pleurothyrium.

Dr. Allen was born in Pawling, N.Y. on April 7, 1904. Her father, Howard N. Allen, was a member of the New York State Assembly, serving at times on the Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Religious Societies.

She studied Botany and Chemistry at Vassar, graduating in 1926. After a year at the Arnold Arboretum under Alfred Rehder and M. L. Fernald she transferred to the Missouri Botanical Garden where she studied under J. M. Greenman, receiving her Ph.D. in 1932. Her dissertation, " A Monograph of the American species of the genus Halenia " was published in 1933.

She returned to the Arnold Arboretum in 1932 as Assistant in the Herbarium. Her initial field of research was the Laurel family of the Eastern Hemisphere. Utilizing collections of E. H. Wilson, J. F. Rock and materials sent from Lingan University, she published her first Study in 1938. Four other floristic papers (1939-1942) followed—treatments of several genera from Eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands using material from the Archbold Expeditions to New Guinea.

At the close of World War II, Robert Woodson, Jr. solicited her collaboration for the treatment of Lauraceae in his Flora of Panama. This was the initiation of her research into the Lauraceae of tropical America. The publication of the Flora of Panama in 1948 brought an invitation from Bassett Maguire to prepare a treatment of Lauraceae for his Plant Explorations in Guiana in 1944.

Family responsibilities forced her to resign from the Arboretum in 1948 and return to Pawling. Her work was severely curtailed over the next decade as she discharged her responsibilities.

On January 18, 1950, Bassett Maguire with whom she had collaborated on his Guiana study, presented her with a whimsical document granting "all and any priviledges of working, studying, loafing or snooping in the herbaria…of the New York Botanical Garden, whenever and in whatever manner shall to her seem fitting." It was signed by J. J. Wurdock, Carol H. Woodward, Donald T. Rogers and Richard S. Cowan along with Maguire's signature and thumbprint.

By 1951 she had a formal title—Collaborator in Lauraceae and a contract which carried no stipend but was renewed every three years until 1959. During this period she performed all of the determinations on Lauraceae sent to the NYBG for examination. She also supervised the graduate work of Lucille Kopp from suggesting a topic, A Revision of the Lauraceous Genus Persea, to attending to its publication in 1966.

In 1959, her family duties accomplished, she was hired as a Research Associate under Bassett Maguire's grant for his Botany of the Guayana Highland. She contributed all of the taxonomic determinations of the Lauraceae in both studies. With the support of Maguire and the NYBG, Allen then began applying for grants to support her own research.

In 1952, A. J. G. H. Kostermans of the Herbarium Bogoriensis had published a revision of the Lauraceae genera in which he proposed the combination of Nectandra and Ocotea into the single genus Ocotea. Dr. Allen did not agree with this model and the remaining portion of her career was dedicated to maintaining Nectandra and Ocotea as separate genera along with the related genus Pleurothyrium.

The differences among the three are discernable through microscopic dissection. With the collaboration of Richard M. Klein, curator of Plant Physiology, she sought to differentiate the genera through chromophotography and isolation of alkaloids. This involved collaborations with Smith, Kline and French Pharmaceuticals and the McCormick Spice Company who supplied bay leaves for their experiments.

In 1962 Dr. Allen embarked on her first field collections. Supported by grants from the American Philosophical Society and the National Science Foundation, she collected in Brazil, Venezuela and Surinam and examined specimens in herbaria in those countries. She purchased the Bausch and Lomb compound microscope and the Dictaphone which were to accompany her on all of her four succeeding field investigations. In 1963, she spent two months collecting in the cloud forests of Mexico. She met Thomas MacDougall in Oaxaha and secured a photocopy of his field notebook for the NYBG. In 1964 she made a three month survey of types and critical material of Tropical American Lauraceae in the major herbaria of Europe. In 1965 she collected for a month in Trinidad. In 1966 she surveyed Lauracea species in the Amazon Region. She published The Generic Status of Nectandra, Ocotea and Pleurothyrium in Phytology in 1966. She had shown that the three genera were distinct.

In 1967 she spent six months in the major herbaria of Europe with her microscope and Dictaphone, producing numerous drawings of microscopic dissections of type and critical Lauraceae material as a preliminary to her final study of Nectandra, Ocotea and Pleurothyrium. It was never completed. In all, she received five National Science Foundation grants which were administered by the NYBG to support her research and publications.

She retired from the NYBG in May, 1974. According to those present, she simply closed the door to her office one evening and never came back. She removed to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where she died on April 6, 1975.


The collection documents Dr. Allen's studies before her association with the New York Botanical Garden, including her studies at the Missouri Botanical Garden and her early career at the Arnold Arboretum. It contains correspondence, curricula vitae, bibliographies, reprints and drawings with specimens attached. The collection is arranged into five series.


Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1932-1957
Series 2: Correspondence, 1932-1948
Subseries A Lauraceae, 1932-1948
Subseries B Halenia, 1932-1940
Subseries C Personal, 1935-1948
Series 3: Reprints, 1933-1939
Series 4: Student Papers, 1926-1931
Series 5: Botanical Sketches, n.d.

Series 1     Biographical Materials, 1932-1957
                    2 fldrs. Arranged by subject

Materials in this series include an early bibliography of work by Dr. Allen and a folder containing newspaper clippings related to the Arnold Arboretum and a book cover from a work by Alfred Rehder.

Series 2     Correspondence, 1932-1948
                    3.5 lin. in. Arranged by subject

Lauraceae correspondence concerns determinations and records of incoming and outgoing specimen loans made by Dr. Allen during her tenure as Assistant in the Herbarium at the Arnold Arboretum. Lauraceae correspondence with Bassett Maguire relates to her treatment of Lauraceae in his "Plant Explorations of Guiana". Halenia correspondence is related to the publication of her monograph on the "American Species of the Genus Halenia" and the comments and requests for determinations that followed it. Personal correspondence offers an insight into the cordial relations that Allen maintained with her professors and colleagues at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Series 3     Reprints, 1933-1939
                    1 lin. in. Arranged by subject

Contained in this series are reprints of Dr. Allen's published dissertation "A Monograph of the American Species of the Genus Halenia" bound with descriptions of two species of Halenia identified by her—Halenia eurphylla and Halenia phyllophora. Separate pages of notes on the monograph have been removed and attached to the binding cover. The place that previously contained them is indicated.

Series 4     Student Papers, 1926-1930
                    5 lin. in. Arranged chronologically

Dr. Allen's student laboratory notes and drawings on Gymnosperma, Angiosperma, Algae, Bryophytes, Fungi and the History of Botany are contained in this series.

Series 5     Botanical Sketches, n.d.
                    5 lin. in. Organized by genus

This series contains pen and pencil sketches of flora local to New York State, both wild and cultivated. Many sheets have specimens attached. Noteworthy is a giant specimen of Taraxacum.


New York Botanical Garden

RG4 Caroline Kathryn Allen Records

Processed March 1999 by Laura Zelasnic under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.

For more information and a complete description contact
Susan Fraser, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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