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Donald Buermann Lawrence papers

Identifier: ua01020

Scope and content note

The Papers of Donald Buermann Lawrence are largely related to glaciological expeditions to South America, 1958-1959, 1967, New Zealand, 1964-1965, 1969, Glacier Bay Alaska, 1941-1988 and the ice fields of Juneau, Alaska, 1949, 1955. There is material also relating to an expedition he made in 1932 to the Jamaican Rain Forest while he was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.

There is no material in the collection on work he did in the Columbia River Gorge for his doctoral and post-doctoral study. However, the Washington Department of Natural Resources Division of Geology in Olympia, Washington has his Columbia Gorge tree samples, which were carbon dated by Lawrence in 1952. Mount Hood samples and copies of his field notes are also held at the Washington DNR.

In spite of Lawrence's involvement in the Nature Conservancy there is no material in the collection relating to this organization. There is one folder of correspondence and some photographs relating to the Cedar Creek Natural History Area.

An extensive collection of slides dating from 1939-1994 was also deposited in University Archives by Mark Noble after the death of Elizabeth Lawrence. The slides are identified and arranged by date but no index exists for this collection.

There are also photographs relating to Lawrence's expeditions located throughout the collection.


  • Creation: 1932-1996

Language of Materials


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.

Biographical Sketch of Donald B. Lawrence (1911-1996)

Donald Lawrence was born in Portland, Oregon on March 8, 1911. He attended Allen Preparatory School and was enrolled in Reed College from 1928-1931. He left Reed before obtaining a degree and transferred to Johns Hopkins University in September 1931, where he received his Ph.D. in 1936 in Plant Physiology. His thesis was titled, "Vegetation of Columbia River Gorge." From 1936-1937 he continued his research on the Columbia River Gorge under a Sigma Xi grant.

He was hired as an instructor in the Botany Department at the University of Minnesota in 1937 and spent his entire professional career there. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1940, Associate Professor in 1947 and Professor in 1950. He retired in 1976.

Elizabeth Hoyle Gay married Donald Lawrence on June 7, 1935. She was born in Norwood, Massachusetts on November 20, 1904 and attended Norwood High School from 1918-1922. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1926 with a major in zoology. She did graduate work in cytology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, 1933-1936 and in biology at the University of Minnesota, circa 1937-1940. Her expertise in these areas enabled her to provide valuable assistance on various expeditions with Lawrence as a member of the scientific teams in South America, New Zealand and Glacier Bay Alaska. She kept her own field notes and collaborated with Lawrence on various reports and publications relating to these expeditions. She died on March 19, 2000 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Lawrence's main area of research involved studies of vegetation development on new land surfaces following glacier recession, landslides, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Although he was a botanist, glacier related studies were his first love, according to a 1976 newsletter of the Minnesota Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, located in Lawrence's Biography File.

In 1941, William Skinner Cooper, also a professor of Botany at the University of Minnesota, invited Donald Lawrence to go to Glacier Bay Alaska, on an expedition to study permanent seedling plots laid out by Cooper in 1916 in Reid Arm. Called Quadrats, their purpose was to study forest vegetation in areas exposed by ice recession in Glacier Bay. Lawrence took over this study and visited the plots every few years starting in 1941 and ending in 1988, which was to be his last trip to Glacier Bay. Dr. Mark Noble has since continued the study in cooperation with Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Gustavus, Alaska. Dr. Ian Worley of the University of Vermont has also visited the plots and at present the study documents over 85 years of plant growth in that area.

Lawrence visited Glacier Bay at least 15 times and also conducted studies on cottonwood trees by establishing experimental cottonwood fertilization plots in 1949, which he referred to as "The Farm". Another study done in collaboration with scientists on Dryas Drummundiior mountain avens, resulted in a paper that was published in The Journal of Ecologyin 1967, by D.B. Lawrence, R.E. Schoenike, A. Quispel and G. Bond.

In 1949 and 1955 he made expeditions to the Juneau Ice Fields to study advancing and receding glaciers.

Lawrence was an advocate of ethnobotany, which is the study of how plants are used and how they have contributed to the development of cultures. However, there is no evidence of this interest in the papers.

Lawrence was a founder of the Minnesota Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, established in 1951. In 1974 he and his brother William donated 380 acres of grassland near Shaniko, Wasco County, Oregon in honor of their parents. He was a member of the Conservancy's Board of Trustees (1960-1964, 1967-1972), served on the Planning Committee (1975), the Preserve Management Committee (1974-1976) as well as the Advisory Committee.

Lawrence also helped create the Cedar Creek Natural History Area in Anoka County, Minnesota. In 1947 he purchased 160 acres of land and presented 130 of those acres to the Minnesota Academy of Science for inclusion in the Cedar Creek Forest. He also helped raise funds to buy the Allison Savanna in Cedar Creek and served on the Advisory Committee for 20 years. On March 25, 1995, the Donald B. Lawrence Building was dedicated at Cedar Creek in his honor. Correspondence from former students regarding this event, relate memories of Donald and Elizabeth Lawrence.

In 1974 he received the AMOCO Foundation-Horace T. Morse award for contributions to undergraduate education in plant ecology.

He died in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May, 1996.

For more complete information on Donald Buermann Lawrence and Elizabeth Gay Lawrence, consult the biography files located in the University of Minnesota Archives.


7.5 Cubic Feet


The collection consists of personal and professional papers of Donald Buermann Lawrence, a Professor of Botany at the University of Minnesota. It contains material largely related to glaciological expeditions to South America, New Zealand, Glacier Bay Alaska and the Juneau Ice Fields. Included are reports of his research, field notes, diaries, personal correspondence to family members, maps of areas he studied and photographs. Also included is a study he conducted in the Jamaican Rain Forest in 1932 for Johns Hopkins University. Field notes and joint publications of Elizabeth Gay Lawrence, wife of Donald Lawrence, can also be found in the collection.

Organization and arrangement

Materials are organized by expedition and by material type.

  1. General Materials
  2. Jamaican Rain Forest Expedition, 1932
  3. South American Expedition, 1958-1959
  4. South American Expedition, 1966-1967
  5. New Zealand Expedition, 1964-1965
  6. Mexican Expedition, 1969, 1976
  7. Glacier Bay Expedition, 1941
  8. Glacier Bay Expedition, 1949
  9. Glacier Bay Expedition, 1950
  10. Glacier Bay Expedition, 1952
  11. Glacier Bay/Juneau Ice Fields Expedition, 1955
  12. Glacier Bay Expeditions, 1967-1988
  13. Glacier Bay miscellaneous
  14. Seedling Plots of W.S. Cooper in Glacier Bay. Raw Data 1916-1988
  15. Juneau Ice Field Photos
  16. Cottonwood Fertilization Plots of D.B. Lawrence in Glacier Bay (The Farm)
  17. Correspondence
  18. Dryas Drummondi Study
  19. Reprints, Publications and Manuscripts
  20. Oversize Materials
  21. Audio Visual Materials

Source of acquisition

Donated to the University of Minnesota Archives by Professor Donald Lawrence, Elizabeth Gay Lawrence and Mark Noble, a former graduate student.

Related Materials in University Archives

William Skinner Cooper papers

Cedar Creek Field Biology Program records

Botany Department records

Donald Buermann Lawrence Papers, 1932-1996
Karen Klinkenberg
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Collecting Area Details

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