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Henry A. Gleason (1882-1975)

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4 linear feet (9 boxes)


Henry A. (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 Nathaniel 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, Nathaniel Lord Britton offered Gleason a permanent position at The New York Botanical Garden.

In his 30 years with the New York Botanical Garden, 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 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.

Gleason served as Vice-President of the Pacaraima-Venezuela Expedition co-sponsored by the Garden, the American Museum of Natural History, and the National Geographic Society. 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 had a strong influence on both ecological and geographical studies of vegetation.

Gleason retired from the New York Botanical Garden in Decemer 1950. During his retirement, he wrote an autobiography, "The Short and Simple Annals of Henry A. Gleason" housed in his Papers and a volume of "Thumbnail Sketches of Botanists," a reference copy of which is shelved in the Library. Henry Gleason died on April 12, 1975.


The Henry Allan Gleason Records, 1921-1975, document the scientific and administrative career of Dr. Gleason at The New York Botanical Garden. The bulk of the material consists of correspondence generated in his capacities as head curator, assistant director, and acting director of the institution. Other materials are photographs, and printed, typewritten, and manuscript articles and botanical descriptions, especially material related to his life work-- a comprehensive study of the flora of British Guiana. Gleason's Field Collection Notebooks (Vol. 94, 95) from his trip to Northern South America and G. H. H. Tate's Field Collection Notebook (Vol. 98) from the Pacaraima-Venezuela Expedition to Mt. Duida in 1939 have been removed to the Collectors' Field Notebooks series (CFN). The Gleason collection is arranged into five series.


Series 1: Biographical Material
Series 2: Annual Reports
Series 3: Correspondence
Series 4: Photographs
Series 5: Manuscripts and Publications

Series 1     Biographical Material, 1944-1975
                   3 folders. Arranged chronologically.

This series consists of an autobiographical essay written by Dr. Gleason, a curriculum vitae written in 1947, and biographical reminiscences by colleagues and family. Photographs of Dr. Gleason, taken during his career at the New York Botanical Garden can be found in Series 3: Photographs.

Series 2     Annual Reports, 1942
                  1 folder

This is the manuscript of an annual report filed by Dr. Gleason in his capacity as Head Curator in 1942.

Series 3     Correspondence, 1921-1948
                   3.5 lin. ft. Arranged alphabetically by correspondent, subject, and institution.

This series provides a cross-section of the scientific and administrative issues faced by Dr. Gleason during his tenure at The New York Botanical Garden. Correspondence with the principal botanical institutions and the major botanists of the time, especially those engaged in the study of Latin American flora, can be found here. Often attached to correspondence are manuscripts or lists of specimens either sent to or by Dr. Gleason for collegial review. Material in the John M. Merrill file contains financial data relative to the New York Botanical Garden's operations in the 1920's. Correspondence with the landscape architect, Anne M. Baker, who designed the Herb Garden is located in the "Herb Garden" folder. Amateur botanists frequently wrote to Dr. Gleason for identification of their finds. Examples of their questions and Gleason's thoughtful replies can be found here. Six years of correspondence with H. C. Oakley regarding the never-to-be-realized establishment of the "California Botanic Garden" illustrates Gleason's administrative generosity and his commitment to that garden's development. Correspondence between Gleason and Maxon is from both Gleason's files at the New York Botanical Garden and material photocopied from Maxon's files at the Smithsonian Institution.

Series 4     Photographs, 1928-1937
                  1 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

This series contains snapshots of Gleason and his colleagues in the field, which were removed from Series 3: Correspondence during processing. There is one formal group portrait of a professional society meeting with identifications written on the back. Photographs of specimens, especially streptopees roselies, are also in this series.

Series 5     Manuscripts and Publications, 1924-1953
                  6 lin. in. Arranged by subject.

Included in this series are the notes, correspondence, manuscript, and outline for the comprehensive study of the flora of British Guiana, on which Gleason collaborated with D. B. Fanshawe. Also here are reviews and publicity material for Gleason's edition of Britton and Brown's Illustrated Flora and his Plants of the Vicinity of New York. Material related to his McMillan Wildflower Guide can be found in Series 1 in the McMillan Company folder.


The New York Botanical Garden

RG4     Elmer Drew Merrill Records

RA       Records of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists

PP        The Henry A. Gleason Papers

Columbia University, Oral History Project: William Steere

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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