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

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Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
3.9 linear feet (3 boxes)


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, New York on April 7, 1904. Her father, Howard N. Allen, was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1923-1944, serving at times on the Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Religious Societies.

Dr. Allen 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 and 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 Lauraceae of Tropical America. The publication of the Flora of Panama (1948) brought an invitation from Bassett Maguire to prepare a treatment of Lauraceae for his "Plant Explorations in Guiana in 1944." (1948)

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 (sic) 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 Lauracea-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 Garden 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 Guiana Highland. She contributed all of the taxonomic determinations of the Lauraceae in both studies. With the support of Maguire and the Garden, 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 New York Botanical Garden. 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 Trinidadand in 1966 she surveyed Lauracea species in the Amazon Region. She published "The Generic Status of Nectandra, Ocotea and Pleurothyrium" in "Notes on Lauraceae of Tropical America" 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 Garden to support her research and publications.

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


This collection includes correspondence (1948-1974), notes, clippings, printed matter, manuscripts, specimens, lists, grant proposals and reports, photographs, field notes, field drawings, and memorabilia documenting Dr. Allen's field and laboratory studies and publications in Lauraceae during her 25 years with The New York Botanical Garden as a Collaborator and Research Associate. Correspondents include: Luciano Bernardini, A. J. G. H. Kostermans, Alain Liogier, E. H. Walker, Robert Woodson, Julian Steyermark, William L. Stern, and C. G. G. J. van Steenis as well as staff of The New York Botanical Garden, especially Bassett Maguire. The collection is arranged into nine series.


Series 1: Biographical Material
Series 2: Correspondence
              Subseries A: Lauraceae
              Subseries B: General
              Subseries C: Personal
Series 3: Notes and Clippings
Series 4: Species Notes
Series 5: Fieldwork
              Subseries A:  South America
              Subseries B:  Mexico
              Subseries C: European Herbaria, 1964
              Subseries D:  West Indies
              Subseries E :  European Herbaria, 1967-1968
Series 6: Grants
Series 7: Manuscripts and Publications
Series 8: Photographs
Series 9: Memorabilia

Series 1      Biographical Material, 1961-1971
                    .2 lin. ft. Arranged by subject.

Located in this series are the curricula vitae prepared by Dr. Allen for grant applications and inclusion in professional directories such as American Men of Science and Who's Who of American Women. Also here are Allen's complete bibliographies. Portrait photographs of Dr. Allen can be found in Series 8: Photographs.

Series 2      Correspondence, 1948-1974
                    1.2 lin. ft. Arranged chronologically within subseries.

Organized into three subseries: Lauraceae 1948-1974; General 1947-1969; and Personal. Lauraceae contains communication with the international community regarding loans, determinations of species, and requests for her comments and collaboration on various projects. Among her correspondents are: Luciano Bernardini, A. J. G. H. Kostermans, Alain Liogier, Robert Woodson, Jr., Julian Steyermark, William L. Stern, E. H. Walker, and Carroll Wood. Manuscripts and publications resulting from these collaborations are found in Series 7: Manuscripts And Publications. Allen's activities as a fundraiser for C. G. G.  J. van Steenis' Flora Malesiana are documented in folders identified by the man and the publication. Correspondence filed under General documents Dr. Allen's professional contacts over the course of her career. The Personal Correspondence subseries contains personal letters from friends, relatives, and colleagues. It offers insight into Dr. Allen's cordial relations with her colleagues as well as the more general day-to-day activities of a professional woman of her era. Series 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 all contain correspondence, filed with the subjects to which it refers. All photographs which were enclosed in correspondence have been removed and placed in Series 8: Photographs and Series 9: Memorabilia.

Series 3      Notes and Clippings, n.d.
                    5 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

This series contains research photocopies, reprints, bibliographies, and clippings related to Dr. Allen's Lauraceae studies. Here is located her research and correspondence on Photography, Chromotography, and the Isolation of Alkaloids in Lauraceae - the means by which she challenged Kostermans' lumping together of Ocotea and Nectandra. Non-lauraceae files contain notes towards entries destined for an unidentified encyclopedia or guidebook. The verso of many of these pages is a typescript of what appears to be a mystery novel set in a herbarium. Other non-lauraceae material is a photo essay on the Lorillard Snuff Mill, clipped from a magazine.

Series 4      Species Notes, n.d.
                    8 lin. in. Arranged alphabetically.

This series is organized by genera. Each folder contains bibliographic citations of species within the individual genus. Leaf sketches and dissection drawings are attached to some citations.

Series 5      FieldWork
                    8 lin. in. Arranged chronologically.

This series contains notes, correspondence, reports, specimen lists, and dissections drawn on site during Dr. Allen's five grant-funded field trips to South American, Mexican, and European herbaria and botanical gardens. A personal journal recording her experiences during her first expedition offers insight into her personality and issues faced by female scientists of her era. Notebooks containing data on specimens collected in Mexico and the West Indies are located in the Field Notebook series.Drawings and illustrations done by Dr. Allen for Dr. Bassett Maguire are located in the Botanical Art and Illustration Collection.

Series 6       Grants
                     7 lin. in. Arranged chronologically.

Dr. Allen was the recipient of six National Science Foundation grants and one from the American Philosophical Society which supported her field work in European and South American herbaria and two collecting expeditions in Mexico and Northern South America. These were administered by The New York Botanical Garden. This series contains proposals, narrative and fiscal reports, and correspondence related to their fulfillment.

Series 7       Manuscripts and Publications, 1960-1971
                     5 lin. in. Arranged chronologically.

Included in this series are notes, manuscripts, and reprints related to 5 of the 20 studies on Lauracea that Dr. Allen published during her tenure at The New York Botanical Garden. The bulk of the material relates to her contributions in Lauraceae (including plate drawings) to Bassett Maguire's Botany of the Guiana Highland, V and VI. The detailed indexes to these articles created by Dr. Allen are found here. The manuscript for her review of Kostermans' Bibliography of Lauraceae, published in Taxon in 1964, is here with its multiple and painstaking revisions. Other manuscripts include her Lauraceae contributions to E. H. Walker's Flora of Okinawa and Steyermark's Flora of Ayuan-tepui and notes for her study of Phytologia, Nectandra, Ocotea, and Pleurothrium in South America (1966).

Series 8      Photographs, 1961-1970
                    2 folders, arranged by subject.

This series contains portrait photographs of Dr. Allen and photographs of specimens – including a photograph of South American Indians preparing lauraceous curare removed from the Correspondence series.

Series 9      Memorabilia, 1963
                    1 folder

Contains a medallion from L'Academie Royale des Sciences in Paris commemorating the Bicentennial of Linnaean Taxonomy (1763-1963).


The New York Botanical Garden

PP        Personal Papers of Dr. Caroline Kathryn Allen

CFN    Vols., 624-626

ART    Collection Number 6 - Bassett Maguire

RG4    Bassett Maguire 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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