American Museum of Natural History, Jesup Wood Hall papers
Scope and Content Note
The Jesup Wood Hall Papers consist of departmental correspondence regarding the acquisition, preparation, exhibition, and research of North American woods. Also present are department records of maintenance scheduled and conducted, plans for future acquisitions, and financial records including pricing on wood specimens obtained, departmental salaries, artistic services, exhibit budgets and estimates. The majority of material is correspondence, but advertisements and brochures, handwritten lists and diagrams, publications, telegrams, receipts, photographs, and physical specimens appear as well.
The Jesup Wood Hall Papers contain inquiries from the scientific community and general public. The majority of inquiries from the scientific community relate to acquiring specimens, photographs, slides, or employment opportunities within the museum. Inquiries from the general public typically concern the identification of a certain specimen. The specimen is sometimes included in photographic or physical form. In many instances a specimen is referenced but the specimen is not present.
The American Museum of Natural History contributed largely to the scientific community in both knowledge and resources, and some of the museum’s contributions are reflected in these letters. Correspondence is with individuals, academic institutions, natural history museums and botanic gardens, the United States Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and other governmental offices, including the United States Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. These letters contain insight into ecology and forestry research, knowledge, and concerns from 1880-1950.
In the Jesup and Dickerson correspondence (1880-1920), letters are filed almost exclusively alphabetically. Later papers (1938-1953) are predominantly organized by topical significance.
- Majority of material found within 1880-1920, 1938-1951
- American Museum of Natural History (Organization)
Please contact Special Collections; materials are sometimes restricted.
The Jesup Collection of North American Woods was created shortly after Morris K. Jesup became president of the museum in 1881. Originally known as the Jesup Collection of North American Woods, it was curated by President Jesup until his death in 1908. After Jesup’s death, the Department of Woods and Forestry was established to curate the Jesup Collection of North American Woods. The collection was housed in the Jesup Woods Hall, which was later known as the Hall of Forestry and the Jesup Hall of North American Woods (used interchangeably from 1908-1946). The collection was curated by the Department of Woods and Forestry from 1910 until 1939, when the department was retitled the Department of Forestry and Conservation. This department underwent further transformation in 1946 and was renamed the Department of Forestry and Botany.
The Collection of North American Woods was one branch of a new Economic Department (established in 1881) intended to exhibit the uses of North America’s natural resources, namely wood and minerals. From his own finances, Jesup funded the acquisition and preparation of nearly 500 species of wood native to North America. These specimens were intended to exhibit “specimens in Economic Botany of all the woods of our country, that are or may be used for architectural or building purposes, or in the manufactures-as gums, resins, and dyewoods” (Annual Report, 1880). Jesup intended to exhibit samples of each species of North American wood accompanied by illustrations of the leaf, flower, and fruit of each specimen.
Jesup employed Dr. Charles Sargent, head of the Harvard University Arnold Arboretum and recently established economic botany program, to collect and prepare 470 specimens of North American woods. Jesup also corresponded with and obtained specimens from railroad companies and logging companies. After Jesup’s death in 1908, Mary Cynthia Dickerson (1866-1923) was hired as an assistant to the Jesup Wood Hall, and in 1909 she was appointed Head of the Department of Woods and Forestry. In 1911 she became Curator of the Department of Woods and Forestry and also established and curated the Department of Herpetology (Amphibians and Reptiles). During her curatorship, the Department of Woods and Forestry continued to acquire new specimens (though at a slower rate than during Jesup’s presidency) and also to devote more resources to the displays and educational development of the collection. New acquisitions included research articles and lectures, paintings, photographs, slides, replicas, and other materials relating to the wood samples already in the museum.
Following Dickerson’s retirement in 1919, there is limited record of the collection between 1920 and 1938. During this period Dr. Frederic A. Lucas is Honorary Curator of the department, but he is not represented in the records for this department. In 1938 the department was reestablished in order to continue the development of the Jesup Hall of North American Woods. In 1939 the Department of Woods and Forestry was officially retitled the Department of Forestry and Conservation in a unanimous vote. Clarence L. Hay was appointed honorary curator, though Robert Marston, Assistant Curator, managed the daily activities and correspondence for the department.
In 1946, Henry Knute Svenson (1897-1986), formerly Curator of the Herbarium at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, was appointed Consultant in the Department of Forestry and General Botany, as the Department of Forestry and Conservation had been re-named. Svenson oversaw the planning and construction of the Landscape Hall beginning in 1949. The Landscape Hall was completed in 1953, the same year that the Department of Forestry and General Botany was transformed into the Department of Conservation and General Ecology
18.5 Linear Feet (17 boxes )
37 Photographic Prints
Language of Materials
Most material is in fair condition. Photographs have been encased as have most fragile documents. Majority of distressed materials dated from 1900-1910 and include paper folding/tearing and discoloration. Binder-like volumes contain glue. There are occasional dark spots that may be mold
Collection consists of typed and handwritten letters (bulk of material), printed pamphlets, photographs, invoices and receipts, notepads, bark and leaf samples
- American Museum of Natural History, Jesup Wood Hall Papers, 1880-1953 (bulk 1880-1920, 1938-1951)
- Hannah Begley
- October-November 2011
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note
- The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation provided support to make this finding aid available in ArchivesSpace (2016-2017). Finding aid created with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant, 2010.