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William Skinner Cooper papers

Identifier: ua-01002

Scope and Content

The papers of William S. Cooper consist of a small artificial collection, which was deposited over time in University Archives by Donald Lawrence, a professor of botany at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague of Cooper. John Marr, a former graduate student, who assisted Cooper after his retirement in Colorado, also deposited some correspondence and glass slides in University Archives. (See Cooper Provenance File.)

Professor Lawrence spent much time and energy pulling together and tracking down the whereabouts of the results of Cooper's work. The collection contains correspondence, articles, manuscripts, publications, reprints, lectures, photo albums, photographic glass negatives, photographic negatives, photographs, maps and field notes. Cooper's interest in both geology and botany is reflected in his photography. A folder in Box 1 of the collection labeled "Cooper Negative Search" tracks where much of this material was deposited.

The following is a list of the results of Lawrence's search:

Cooper Material Located in University Archives:

  1. Field notes taken in Oregon, Northern California and Mexico, 1917-1941 (except 1930)
  2. Photographs dated 1909-1910 of Isle Royale National Park.
  3. Photographs of Chestnut Tree Bark Disease investigations of 1914. Sent to University Archives by John Marr.
  4. Glass negatives Sent to University Archives by John Marr in 1988. Located in the audio-visual collection in boxes 10-12.
  5. Negatives (4"X6") of Glacier Bay studies and family photographs located in boxes, which were originally numbered 1-30. These negatives are largely unidentified. They were transferred to fold-lock sleeves and placed in new negative boxes in order to conserve space and because the original boxes were deteriorating. The new negative boxes are now located in the audio-visual collection and are numbered 1-8. The majority of the contents of original boxes numbered 8-9 relating to Isle Royale were sent to Isle Royale National Park. Photo albums of the Glacier Bay studies that correspond to the negatives, are in the possession of Elizabeth Cooper Maeck, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, daughter of William S. Cooper, Negatives (5"X7") originally labeled A2 and A4. The negatives have been reboxed into Box 9 and are located in the audiovisual collection. Negatives labeled A1, A6 and A7 were not found. The contents of boxes A3 and A5 were sent to Isle Royal National Park.
  6. Sound tapes have been placed in the audio-visual collection. (Tape cassettes no. 43 and 44).
  7. Alaska and Glacier Bay field notes originally given to Dave Bohn by William Cooper, were donated to University Archives by Dave Bohn on October 5, 2006. A photocopy of these field notes was also given to University Archives by Dave Bohn in 2005.

Located at Isle Royale National Park:

  1. Negatives of 1909-1910 expedition to Isle Royale National Park were originally in Negative Boxes numbered 8 and 9 and identified as A3: 517-532 and A5: 1184-89. Sent to Isle Royale National Park in 1989.

Located in Data Center, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder:

  1. Negatives and prints of glaciological subjects taken in Alaska and Canada, 1911-1956, were sent to the American Geographical Society in New York in 1966. The Geographical Society later relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The negatives and prints were eventually sent to the Data Center at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They were most likely originally part of the larger collection of negatives now held in University Archives.
  2. Cooper negatives of San Juan Mountains in Colorado were not found.


  • 1909-1989

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 William Skinner Cooper (1884-1978)

William Skinner Cooper was born on August 25, 1884 in Detroit, Michigan. He attended Detroit public schools and graduated in 1906 from Alma College, which was founded by his father David Mack Cooper, a Presbyterian minister.

In 1907 he enrolled in Johns Hopkins University, but left after one year to continue his graduate studies at the University of Chicago under Henry Chandler Cowles, an eminent plant ecologist. He obtained his Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago in 1911. His thesis was based on studies done in 1909 and 1910 of the development of vegetation on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

From 1912-1916 Cooper studied chaparral vegetation in California, and strand and dune flora of the Pacific Coast Region of Oregon and California, as well as wind patterns that developed dune shapes along the Oregon coast. The results of these studies were published by the Geological Society of America in 1958 and 1967.

In 1915 Cooper joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota as an assistant to Frederick E. Clements, then head of Botany. After a leave of absence in 1918 to enter Y.M.C.A. service, (Board of Regents Minutes, 1917-1918, p. 38) he was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1919, Associate Professor in 1927 and Professor in 1929.

Cooper made scientific trips to Glacier Bay Alaska in 1916, 1921, 1929, 1935 with William O. Field (American Geographical Society), 1956 and 1966. In the 1920's, he chaired a committee of the Ecological Society of America to protect the site of his Alaskan studies. In 1922 he suggested to the Ecological Society that National Park status be awarded to Glacier Bay. On February 25, 1925 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Glacier Bay as a National Monument under the American Antiquities Act. In the 1930's Cooper also served on the National Research Council's Committee on the Preservation of Natural Conditions which worked to again elevate Glacier Bay Monument to park status, as well as provide a sanctuary for the Alaskan Brown Bear and prohibit prospecting in Glacier Bay. In 1976 President Gerald Ford signed a law prohibiting mining and prospecting in Glacier Bay. This repealed a previous law passed in 1936 during President Franklin Roosevelt's administration, allowing mining in this area. Glacier Bay became a National Park on December 2, 1980, an international biosphere reserve in 1986 and a World Heritage Site in 1992. Today William Cooper is considered to be the father of Glacier Bay National Park.

On January 19, 1980 the United States Board on Geographic Names approved the name of Mount Cooper for a mountain located between Lamplugh Glacier and Johns Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay, in honor of William Skinner Cooper.

In 1916 Cooper laid out permanent seedling plots in Reid Arm of Glacier Bay in order to study forest vegetation in areas exposed by ice recession. He restudied them on return trips to Reid Arm in 1921, 1929 and 1935. In 1941 University of Minnesota Botany professor, Donald Lawrence, took over this study and revisited the plots at various times, making his last trip in 1988. Raw data and original maps of Cooper's seedling plots are located in the papers of Donald Lawrence (Collection 1020).

Cooper was one of the first ecologists to make use of aerial reconnaissance and photography to work out the history of landscapes. Cedar Bog Lake and swamp in the Anoka Sand Plain were later preserved as the Cedar Creek Natural History Area in Anoka County, Minnesota. Although discovered as a result of Cooper's aerial photography, there is no material in the papers regarding Cedar Creek.

Cooper studied the geological history and changes in the state's landscape, and especially the Anoka Sand Plain. This study refuted the work of Frederick Sardeson, a geologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, who attributed its features to wind action. (See folder 66 for correspondence).

Cooper retired from the University of Minnesota in 1951 and moved to Boulder, Colorado where he continued his scientific work. His life-long interest in music also followed him to Boulder, and he was a founder of the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra. He died on October 8, 1978.

For more complete information on William Skinner Cooper, consult his biography file, located in the University of Minnesota Archives.


3 boxes (16.5 linear feet)


The collection consists of personal and professional papers of William Skinner Cooper, professor of botany at the University of Minnesota.

Source of Acquisition

Donated to the University of Minnesota Archives by Professor Donald Lawrence, University of Minnesota professor of botany and John Marr, a former graduate student.

Related Materials in University Archives

Botany Department records

Donald Buermann Lawrence papers

Cedar Creek Field Biology Program records

Frederick Sardeson papers

William Skinner Cooper papers, 1909-1989
Karen Klinkenberg
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