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Department of Botany Records

Identifier: CA-MS-00082

Scope and Contents

The Department of Botany records contain materials describing the department's course offerings, history, events, finances and faculty. Types of materials include typescripts, press releases, syllabi, photographs, financial ledgers, published papers, journals, correspondence, and meeting minutes (restricted). Annual reports from 1896 to 1919 provide an excellent overview of the department's activities. Course content is also well described in the syllabi.

Dates of Materials

  • 1892 - 1968


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use with following restrictions on access: Department 'meeting minutes' are restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

Smith College retains copyright of materials created as part of its business operations; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Smith College, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Botany was offered at Smith College from the beginning of the institution in 1875, but the science was not established as a separate and independent department until 1890. Among the scientific courses of study, botany considered "particularly fitted" to a woman's nature. Originally botany was among the required courses for first-year students, but was later changed to an elective. The lack of a prerequisite made the course available to all students, but science majors were required to take it. The basic text for introductory classes was most likely Gray's Manual of Botany. As the department grew, courses on topics such as plant physiology, morphology, geography, taxonomy, pathology, anatomy, field and forest botany, ecology, planting design, gardening, landscape architecture were introduced. Horticulture was first offered in 1900.

The first professor hired to teach Botany was Rev. H. G. Jessup. Bessie Capen, one of the first women to graduate from MIT, taught the subject from 1876-1879. She later opened her own school, the Capen School. A new scientific building, Lilly Hall, was opened in 1886 to provide much-needed space, laboratories and equipment. The biological sciences occupied the second floor, which included a botanical workroom, collection area, and specimen and apparatus room. At the time, the new building attracted quite a bit of attention as one of the first science buildings exclusively for women.

Dr. William Francis Ganong was appointed as Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanic Garden in 1894. He also held the position of chairman of the department until his retirement in 1932. As an internationally known botanist, he had authored several books, including The Teaching Botanist, A Laboratory Manual for Plant Physiology, The Living Plant, and A Textbook of Botany for Colleges. Under Ganong' administration the department reached its peak in student enrollment, size of staff, number of courses. There was a notable improvement in the range and quality of equipment, and the department gained a positive academic reputation. Enrollment in the introductory elective class rose to a peak of 182 in 1926, then declined.

The development of the Smith College campus has been closely tied to the Botany Department. The campus itself was used by the Botany Department as a laboratory and classroom for the study of both woody and exotic plants as the landscape plan developed. The college hired the Brookline firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot to develop a comprehensive landscape scheme. Frederick Law Olmsted, best remembered for designing Central Park in New York City and the Boston park system created a plan in 1893 included curving drives and walkways, open spaces with specimen trees, and vistas over Paradise Pond through wooded groves. In 1893-94 a small greenhouse, the beginning of Lyman Plant House, was constructed to provide more opportunities for botanical study. Construction on the greenhouse continued through 1914 as rooms and workspace was added.

By the late 1890s the sciences had outgrown the room available in Lilly Hall. Plans were made to construct a new building to house the Zoology and Botany departments. This structure, Burton Hall, was finished in 1914, and Botany Department resided in the right wing, the nearest to the Botanic Garden.

The Biology, Botany, Microbiology, and Zoology Departments were re-organized in 1966-67 and joined together under the title of Department of Biological Sciences. Now as throughout the history of Botany at Smith, students study plant theory in class, and then are able to apply and practice this knowledge in the Lyman Plant House. Horticulture remains perhaps the most popular class that developed out of the Botany Department. Students' experimentations result in the annual bulb show in the spring and the chrysanthemum show in the fall, continuing the tradition first started under the department.


2.0 linear feet (6 containers)

Language of Materials



Records include the department's course offerings, history, events, finances and faculty. Types of materials include typescripts, annual reports, press releases, syllabi, photographs, financial ledgers, published papers, journals, correspondence, and meeting minutes (restricted).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Botany Department Records were donated over a period of time from a variety of sources.

Related Material

52.Sci Biological Sciences Department 42. Faculty Biographical Files College Circulars, Bulletins, Catalogue

Processing Information

Processed by Christina Lehman

Processing Information

Please note that prior to 2018, folder inventories were not always updated when new material was added to the collection. As a result, folder inventories may not be complete and folder numbers may be incorrect.

Finding aid to the Department of Botany Records
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Christina Lehman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: manosca82 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2018-11-20: Containers added and finding aid updated as part of the College Archives Survey

Repository Details

Part of the Smith College Archives Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063