Archives and Manuscript Collections
MARY STRONG CLEMENS PAPERS (1912-1934)
2.5 linear inches (1 box)
Strong Clemens (1873-1968) was a botanical explorer who collected in remote
areas of the South Pacific. Botanists such as Merrill, Copeland, van Steenis,
Holttum, Cummins, and others all relied extensively on the Clemens collections
for writing papers on the flowering plants, ferns, and rust fungi of those
Born Mary Knapp Strong in New York on January 3, 1873, she married Joseph
Clemens, a Methodist Episcopalian clergyman in 1894. Joseph Clemens was
born in St. Just, Cornwall, England on December 9, 1862. He emigrated with
his family to Pennsylvania in 1867. Clemens graduated from Dickinson College
(B.A. 1894; M.A. 1897) and in 1902 he joined the United States Army as
chaplain with the rank of Captain. This position made possible the Clemens'
extensive travels. Mary Strong Clemens made field collections in California,
Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas as Joseph Clemens was transferred from post to
From 1905 to 1909 the Clemens were stationed in the Philippines at the
same time that E. D. Merrill was working there. Clemens collected in Mindanao
and Luzon, traveling in the most remote regions and often ascending mountains
with heights of over 3,000 meters.
In 1918 Joseph Clemens was retired for a disability he had received
in the line of service in France during World War I . After this retirement,
the Clemens returned to the South Seas, supporting their work through sales
of specimens. They collected on the highest and most inaccessible mountains
in the Philippines, British North Borneo, Chihli and Shantung provinces
in China, the Anam region of French Indo-China, and New Guinea.
In 1929 they spent six months collecting in Sarawak, Borneo. In 1930
E. D. Merrill estimated their collections at over 20,000 numbers. (Howe,
118) Mary Clemens collected the material and Joseph prepared it for shipment.
Joseph Clemens died on January 21, 1936, from food poisoning in Wareo,
New Guinea on the way to a German Lutheran Mission conference in Finschhafen.
Mary recorded his death on a specimen label (Clemens 1668, B) which reads
"It was under this tree [Myristica lancifolia var. clemensii] that
my soul companion for over 40 years of wedded life, bade me farewell for
the higher life." (Conn, 217)
Mary Strong Clemens went to New Guinea and remained there until World
War II, when the Japanese invasion forced her to evacuate to Australia
on December 26, 1941. Until 1939, she had been sending her collections
to Berlin. Between 1939 and 1941 she sent them to the University of Michigan.
Many of her notebooks were lost in the subsequent occupation of New Guinea.
Arriving in Australia, she was the houseguest of the Queensland Government
Botanist C. T. White for some days. He arranged for her to be given a workspace
in a shed behind the Queensland Herbarium main building.
Clemens collected extensively in Queensland, traveling by hitchhiking
and once on a hand-propelled rail trolley. Her notebooks, housed in the
Botany Branch of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, all begin
with the date and contain a summary of the weather and a scriptural passage
for each day. Her notes provide insight into some of her personal qualities - deep
religious conviction, a fanatical devotion to collecting plants, a concern
for the welfare of the indigenes, and indifference to her own comfort and
the robustness of her person." (Langdon, 377).
Sets of her collections in Queensland were sent to H. H. Bartlett, director
of the Botanical Garden of the University of Michigan, who undertook the
distribution and sale of the duplicates. The collections are housed in
herbaria around the world. "Opinion now is that Mrs. Clemens probably lacked
the capacity to determine plants. As years passed botanists became very
wary of Mrs. Clemens and her plants." (Langdon, 380).
In 1950 Mary Clemens suffered a broken hip. After that she ceased to
create written records of her activities. In 1963 she moved to the Garden
Settlement for the Aged at Chermside on the northern outskirts of Brisbane.
She died there on April 13, 1968.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
The Mary Strong Clemens Papers (1912-1934) document three collecting
expeditions by Mary and Joseph Clemens. The collection contains typewritten
and mimeographed determination lists, photographs, and transmittal correspondence.
The photographs document the Clemens' expedition through the Chihli and
Shantung provinces in China, 1912-1913, and contain views of monuments
and daily life in China at that period. The determination lists document
their work in Borneo and Java. The collection is arranged into two series.
Series 1: Collections
Series 2: Photographs
Series 1 Collections, 1929-1934
2.5 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically by expedition.
This series consists of typewritten and mimeographed determination lists,
duplicates, and transmittal correspondence from the Clemens' expeditions
to Mt. Kinabalu, northern Borneo and Mt. Gede in western Java. Determinations
were made by the Buitenzorg Herbarium and the Clemens. A paper by J. J.
Smith, "Additions to the Orchid Flora of Borneo," is found in the Sarawak,
Borneo, Orchidaceae folder.
Series 2 Photographs, 1912-1913
This series contains prints of an expedition taken by the Clemens through
Chihli and Shantung provinces. The prints were annotated on the back by
Mary Strong Clemens and the annotations have been transcribed onto separate
pages in pencil.
The New York Botanical Garden
RG4 Elmer Drew Merrill Records
Harvard University, Gray Herbarium
David Leroy Topping Papers
Queensland Herbarium, Brisbane, Australia
Mary Strong Clemens Field Notebooks
Processed May 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
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
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