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Department of Botany records

Identifier: ua00892

Scope and Content

The early years of correspondence document taxonomic matters and the development of the Herbarium collection of mounted plants. In addition to the collecting activities of the faculty, various private collections were negotiated for. The Holway Rust Collection, the Fink Lichen Collection, the Holzinger Herbarium, the Lunell Collection, and others are noted in the correspondence. The section on the Herbarium documents general activities concerned with assembling a collection of plant specimens of national importance. The field notebooks and exchange records document this taxonomic work as well as the early records for the Herbarium collection.

Carl O. Rosendahl's professional papers constitute a large portion of the collection. The bulk of the correspondence concerns his taxonomic research. Manuscripts of several of his articles, presentations, and dissertation are also present.

J. Arthur Harris is represented both in his administrative work in the general correspondence as well as a section devoted to his correspondence while absent from the department, some lecture notes, and a memorial volume prepared to honor his memory (folders 134-142).

Correspondence with visiting faculty Murray F. Buell (1930-1966), Norman Fassett (1930s) and Richard Evans (1946) regarding their work at the Lake Itasca Biological Station is included. Fassett and Evans appear in the general Itasca Biological Station correspondence.

The administrative history of the department is reflected in staff minutes and correspondence with the various deans. Curriculum development can be traced by examining the Curriculum Committee minutes.

Josephine Tilden’s research on algae in the Pacific Basin is documented in her letters (folders 337-338) and the papers on the Pan Pacific Science Expedition (folder 214). Following Tilden’s death in 1957, the department collaborated with Joseph Wachter, who Tilden bequeathed her possessions to in her will, to return to the University a large amount of algae specimens that Tilden kept at her home in Florida during her retirement. The correspondence documents this exchange.

The Minnesota Seaside Station, which was established with land that Tilden purchased in the late 1890s on Vancouver Island, is documented by photocopies of the letters of Alice Misz, a 1906 station attendee (folder 196). Photographs taken at the station, around Vancouver Island, and throughout Canada, are contained in photograph albums, print photographs, and negatives produced by professors Rosendahl, Frederic Butters, and Ned Huff.

The Junior F. Hayden Botanical Slides were bequeathed to the Department of Botany upon Junior Hayden's death in 1949, as stipulated in his will.

The photograph collections contain thousands of images that document Minnesota landscapes and botanical specimens from the late 1890s to the mid-1940s. Detailed descriptions of these collections can be found in the contents list.


  • 1893-1989
  • (bulk 1921-1982)


Language of Materials

Collection material in English

Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Historical Note

Instruction in botany began at the University in the early 1870s as part of the curriculum in the general sciences. After the establishment of the Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey (MGNHS) in 1872 by an act of the state legislature that placed authority for survey administration under the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, instruction in botany was assigned to the Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, Newton Horace Winchell. Winchell also served concurrently as the State Geologist and director of the MGNHS. Winchell was relieved of teaching duties in 1878 to focus solely on the work of the survey, and Christopher Webber Hall assumed responsibility for botanical coursework beginning with the 1878-1879 Academic Year.

In 1887 Hall was granted $300 by the Board of Regents to hire an additional instructor of botany, and Conway MacMillan was appointed to the position. MacMillan served as an instructor and assistant to Hall until 1890 when he was promoted to the title of Assistant Professor of Botany, and was appointed the title of State Botanist of the MGNHS. In 1891, Hall was relieved of botany instruction, and MacMillan was made a full Professor of Botany (Board of Regents Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, 1879-1888; 1889-1895).

Though not formally acknowledged by the Board of Regents, the formation of the Department of Botany is associated with the relocation of the science disciplines from the main University building (Old Main) to Pillsbury Hall in 1889. The early work of the department centered around MacMillan’s position as State Biologist for the survey, and was concerned with the collection and classification of botanical specimens to add to the Herbarium, established with the purchase of the John Sandberg Herbarium collection of 6,000 specimens in 1889.

In 1898, Josephine Tilden was appointed instructor of Botany making her the first female faculty member in the science disciplines. In the late 1890s, Tilden purchased a tract of land at the site of what today is known as Botanical Beach in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park in British Columbia where she built the Minnesota Seaside Station (MSS). The station operated each summer from 1901-1907 with between 30-40 students, professors, and high school teachers in attendance each year.

In 1906, Conway MacMillan resigned as head of the department and left academia to pursue a career in advertising. In 1907, Frederic E. Clements, formerly of the University of Nebraska, was appointed to replace MacMillan. Clements’ research was focused on plants and their relation to the environment, which developed the department’s work in ecology. General instruction was conducted primarily by Ned L. Huff, who joined the faculty as an instructor 1906 and taught until his retirement in 1946. In 1915, William S. Cooper, who later became well known for his work to preserve Glacier Bay in Alaska and his studies of the Anoka Sand Plain, joined the department. In 1917, Clements resigned as chair and professor Carl Otto Rosendahl was named acting chairman.

The Botany department was removed from Pillsbury Hall upon the construction of the Botany Building, which was completed in 1926. In 1935 the department initiated a summer session at the Itasca Biological Station in Itasca State Park, an active program to this day.

In 1965 the department was removed from the College of Science, Literature and the Arts, and became part of newly formed College of Biological Sciences, along with Agricultural Biochemistry, Zoology, the Museum of Natural History, and the Dight Institute for Human Genetics. The department moved in to the Biological Sciences Center when the building opened in 1972.

In 1978 the plant physiology program, previously administered jointly by the College of Agriculture and the College of Biological Sciences, became part of the administrative oversight of the department. In 1988, the Department of Botany was renamed the Department of Plant Biology.

The following are a list of department chairmen and heads with their titles and length of term:

Botany heads and their titles:

  1. Conway MacMillan, Chairman 1889-1907
  2. Frederic E. Clements, Chairman, 1907-1916
  3. Carl Otto Rosendahl, Acting Chairman, 1917-1920
  4. Elias J. Durand, Chairman, 1920-1921
  5. Carl Otto Rosendahl, Acting Chairman, 1922-1924
  6. J. Arthur Harris, Head, 1924-1930
  7. Carl Otto Rosendahl, Acting Chairman, 1930-1934
  8. Carl Otto Rosendahl, Chairman, 1935-1944
  9. Ernst C. Abbe, Chairman, 1944-1947
  10. A. Orville Dahl, Chairman, 1947-1957
  11. Allan H. Brown, Chairman, 1957-1962
  12. Ernst C. Abbe, Chairman, 1962-1967
  13. Eville Gorham, Head, 1967-1971
  14. Albert Frenkel, Head, 1971-1975
  15. Douglas C. Pratt, Head, 1975-1984
  16. Thomas K. Soulen, Head, 1984-1988
  17. Irwin Rubenstein, Head, 1888-
  18. Kathryn VandenBosch, Head, 2001-2006, 2007-


168 boxes


The collection contains the correspondence files, field notebooks, various reports, and photographs and slide sets for the Department of Botany at the University of Minnesota.


Correspondence is arranged chronologically until 1920. Subsequently it is organized alphabetically. Correspondence is arranged chronologically in general folders. Arrangement of the collection was complicated because the earlier deposit apparently represented the files of Carl Otto Rosendahl who was twice head of the department as well as being in charge of the Herbarium. The later deposit of papers done at the time of the department's move to the St. Paul Campus were official department papers maintained alphabetically beginning in 1921. Until 1921, most of the correspondence is incoming. After 1921, outgoing correspondence is present.

Source of acquisition

The bulk of the material was deposited in University Archives by the Department of Botany between 1951 and 1985. The field notebooks and lantern slides were deposited in the summer of 2013. Negatives and illustrations were transfered by the Herbarium in 2017. Ned Huff print photographs were found in the Bell Museum in 2017.

Related Materials in University Archives

William Cooper papers

Donald Lawrence papers

Margaret Oldenburg papers

Other Related Materials

Bartlett, Sheri L., The History of the Department of Botany 1889-1989 University of Minnesota, 1989.

Hodson, Alexander C., “History of the Lake Itasca Biology Session,” University of Minnesota Field Biology Program Occasional Paper(1: 1979)

Processing Information

This collection was digitized with funds provided by the State of Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Department of Botany records, 1893-1989
Penelope Krosch; updated by Karen Spilman and Jenny Filipi; updated by Rebecca Toov
Nov 2003; updated May 2004, January 2011; 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area