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Henry Allan Gleason (1882-1975)

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2.3 linear feet (6 boxes)


Henry Allan Gleason (1882-1975) was born in Dalton City, Illinois on Jan. 2, 1882. He began his studies in botany at the age of 13 and published his first contribution in The American Naturalist while still in high school. He received his B.S. and M.A. from the University of Illinois. After a year as a fellow at the University of Ohio and a summer as the zoologist of invertebrates on a survey of Isle Royale, sponsored by the University of Michigan, Gleason began his studies in taxonomy under Nathanial Lord Britton at Columbia University, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1906.

After teaching at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, Dr. Gleason studied tropical vegetation for one year, traveling to the Philippines, Java, and Ceylon. In 1918 he delivered a lecture on his findings to the Torrey Botanical Club. Following that talk, Nathanial Lord Britton offered Gleason a permanent position at The New York Botanical Garden.

In his 30 years with The New York Botanical Garden, Dr. Gleason served in a variety of capacities including curator, head curator, and assistant director. He was acting director for 19 months between 1936 and 1938. Gleason served at various times as editor of the Garden Journal, Addisonia, and the Bulletin. He edited, revised and expanded editions of both North American Flora and Plants of the Vicinity of New York.

A taxonomist and ecologist, Dr. Gleason was responsible for the development of the South American collections at The New York Botanical Garden. His specialty was the Melastomacea.

When the American Museum of Natural History sent the first expedition to explore Mt. Duida in Venezuela, the zoologist G. H. H. Tate collected botanical material for Gleason which resulted in hundreds of species descriptions.

Dr. Gleason was responsible for over 235 contributions to the field of vascular botany. One of the first ecologists, he considered his idea that the "combination of morphological and geographical evidence can be of greatest service in developing the phylogeny and history of a group of plants" to be his primary theoretical contribution. He is identified with the individualistic concept of plant association, which has been a strong influence on both ecological and geographical studies of vegetation.

Gleason retired from The New York Botanical Garden in December, 1950. During his retirement, he wrote two unpublished works: an autobiography, The Short and Simple Annals of Henry A. Gleason and Thumbnail Sketches of Botanists, a reference copy of which is shelved in The LuEsther T. Mertz Library. Henry Gleason died on April 12, 1975.


The Henry Allan Gleason Papers, 1835-1973, document the life and career of Dr. Gleason before and after his association with The New York Botanical Garden. The bulk of the material consists of manuscripts produced by Dr. Gleason during his retirement - a three-volume autobiography, The Short and Simple Annals of Henry A. Gleason; reminiscences of his contacts with the leading botanists of his age; and historical and scientific essays. Other materials are brochures and memorabilia related to his research tour of the Far East in 1913-1914, herbarium labels and signatures collected by Dr. Gleason, personal and professional correspondence, photographs and realia. The collection is arranged into seven series.


Series 1: Biographical Material
Series 2: Correspondence
Series 3: Manuscripts and Publications
Series 4: Label and Signtaure Collection
Series 5: Travel Memorabilia
Series 6: Photographs
Series 7: Realia

Series 1     Biographical Material, 1835-1964
                    0.5 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

This series contains material about Dr. Gleason's family, his early school records, financial records, diaries, and the manuscript of a 3-volume autobiography written between 1961 and 1964.

Series 2     Correspondence, 1880-1919
                    0.25 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

Letters from Dr. Gleason's family during his school years and professional contacts regarding publications and collections make up the bulk of this series. There is one folder of correspondence addressed to Professor T. J. Burrill, which has signed letters from some of the most distinguished scientists of the era preceding Dr. Gleason's. Another folder of material from Thea Mattei tells the story of Gleason's courtship and their eventual marriage. Dr. Gleason's early contact with the New York Botanical Garden is also chronicled through correspondence with N. L. Britton, E. D. Merrill and L. M. Underwood.

Series 3     Manuscripts and Publications, 1904-1962
                    0.5 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically.

This series holds the whimsical aspects of Dr. Gleason's career. One folder contains some lines of music and poetry composed by him, and a number of parodies of the popular songs of the day. Other material includes a full run of the mimeographed community newletter, The Biolog, published at the summer station of the University of Michigan, during Gleason's tenure. The original and a reference copy of the book Thumbnail Sketches of Botanists, invaluable for biographers of botanists, is included in this series. A bound copy is in The LuEsther T. Mertz Library collection. Also in this series is a collection of essays on scientific and non-scientific topics, a long biographical essay on Nathanial Lord Britton, and an unidentified bibliography which touches on a variety of plant families and includes references dated before 1925.

Series 4     Label and Signature Collection, n.d.
                    3 folders

Dr. Gleason's collection of herbarium and collectors' labels was gathered over a lifetime and donated to the New York Botanical Garden in 1968.

Series 5     Travel Memorabilia, 1913-1914
                    0.3 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

This series contains ephemera from Dr. Gleason's research trip to the Far East. He traveled on the steamships "SS. Manchuria" and "Nordeutscher Lloyd", stopping in Italy, Switzerland, the Philippines, Singapore, Ceylon, Java, and Japan. The series contains brochures and maps from each location. A packet of cartes de visite is contained in the steamship folder. One folder contains his field notes and the specimens collected during the trip.

Series 6     Photographs, 1895-1973
                    0.15 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

Included in this series are portrait photographs and snapshots of Dr. Gleason, his family, and their various living quarters. One folder contains snapshots of Dr. Gleason's ninety-first birthday party in 1973. Other photographs are reproductions of award certificates with which he was honored. All negatives are housed in one folder.

Series 7     Realia, n.d.
                   0.1 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

This series contains three-dimensional objects, separated from other series for more secure storage.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG4 Henry A. Gleason Records

Processed January 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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