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William Skinner Cooper papers

Identifier: ua01002

Overview of the Collection

Collection contains the papers of William Skinner Cooper, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the University of Minnesota.

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:


  • Creation: 1909-1989

Access to Materials

Physical items in this collection do not circulate and are available for use by appointment in the Elmer L. Andersen Library Reading Room.

Portions of this collection are not processed. Contents are minimally described and require further review to determine suitability for research use. Email for more information. Do not make travel arrangements or plans to visit Andersen Library without making prior arrangements with University Archives staff.

Digital Access

Selected photographic negatives, lantern slides, field notebooks, diaries, maps, and photograph albums from this collection were digitized in 2018. Select the file icon on the item records to access digital content in the UMedia Archive.


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.


15 Cubic Feet (2 record cartons; 1 hollinger; 13 oversize flat boxes; 1 oversize tube; 13 card boxes (housing negatives))

Language of Materials



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.

William Skinner Cooper papers, 1909-1989
Under Revision
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