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William Whitman Bailey (1843-1914)



William Whitman Bailey was born on February 22, 1843, in West Point, New York, and spent most of his childhood at the military academy, where his father taught. At the time of his father's death, in 1857, Bailey left West Point for Providence, Rhode Island, where an uncle lived. He attended the University Grammar School from 1857-1860 and then entered Brown University. While at Brown, Bailey studied chemistry, and occasionally took up the systematic analysis of plants, though at that time botany was not taught at the university. Following the outbreak of civil war, Bailey enlisted in the Tenth Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers in 1862, only to have a physical breakdown within his first three months in the field. He returned to Providence shortly thereafter. Bailey left Brown with his class, in 1864, but without receiving a degree.

In the years after college, Bailey would on occasion visit his brother, Loring W. Bailey, who was chair of Chemistry and Natural Science at the University of New Brunswick. Bailey would sometimes assume his brother's duties and teach chemistry, physiology and comparative anatomy at the university. From 1866-1867 he was an assistant chemist for the Manchester Print Works, Manchester, New Hampshire, and he also worked for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When in 1867 he heard about the United States Geological Exploration of the 40th parallel being undertaken by Clarence King, he sought the position of botanist. He was accepted to the expedition, and traveled as far as Nevada before his health failed him again. He resigned from the expedition in the spring of 1868, and was replaced by Sereno Watson.

Bailey then held a series of positions over the next 10 years, while continuing to study botany on the side. He worked as an assistant librarian at the Providence Athenaeum, taught in private schools, and worked with John Torrey in the herbarium of Columbia College. Brown University awarded him his Ph.B. in 1873. In 1877 he started a private class in botany at Brown University. Prior to this offering, botany had never been taught at Brown. The class was a success and Bailey would continue to teach botany at Brown for nearly 30 years. He was made Professor of Botany in 1881, and was awarded the degree of A.M. in 1893. The University of New Brunswick conferred upon him the degree of LL.D. in 1900. He retired from teaching in 1906, and was made professor emeritus.

Bailey married Eliza Randall Simmons in 1881. They had two children, Whitman and Margaret Emerson. He died on February 20, 1914. During his years at Brown he concentrated on teaching rather than research; he published three general manuals or guides to botany: Botanical Collectors' Hand-book, Botanical Note-book and Botanizing and two general guides to wildflowers: Among Rhode Island Wild Flowers and New England Wild Flowers.


Cattell, James McKeen, American Men of Scienceed. 2. New York : Science Press, 1910.
Deane, Walter. "William Whitman Bailey." Rhodora 16(186): 97-101.
Who was Who in America, 1897-1942. Chicago : A. N. Marquis Co., 1942.

Scope and Content:

The major portion of the Bailey papers consists of his letters to James Franklin Collins, 1884-1914. Much of the correspondence deals with the operation of the botany department at Brown and with activities of the New England Botanical Club. Bailey frequently sent on to Collins letters he had received from others, sometimes for Collins' general interest, sometimes for Collins to answer. There is some discussion of botanical questions. There are altogether about 300 letters, including the letters forwarded by Bailey.

The remainder of the Bailey papers consist of some rough notes on Bailey's life, a 3 page autobiographical sketch by Bailey, a flyer for Botanizing, and 6 poems by Bailey. Passages of the autobiography were used verbatim by Deane in his memorial of Bailey.


The letters to Collins were given to the Gray Herbarium by Collins on April 6, 1923. The folder of miscellaneous biographical materials was given by Walter Deane in 1918.

Container Listing: Box V

Letters from W.W. Bailey to James Franklin Collins:
Folder 1: 1884-1894, 34 letters and 7 notes of replies by JFC
Folder 2: 1895-1899, 37 letters; 3 notes of replies by JFC and FC's notes for report of curator
Folder 3: 1900-1902, 33 letters and a poem; 1 note of reply by JFC; JFC's notes about planning for academic year at Brown
Folder 4: 1903-1904, 52 letters and 1 note of reply by JFC
Folder 5: 1905-1906, 44 letters
Folder 6: 1907-1910, 45 letters
Folder 7: 1911-1914, 44 letters and 2 copies of replies by JFC
Folder 8: Folder containing notes on Bailey's life, autobiographical sketch, poems

See also:

Historic Letter Collection
Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Gray Archives Photograph Collection: #0007, #0008, #0743, #0747, #0847, #0887, #0909, #1181
Sereno Watson Papers (for botanical notebook started by Bailey on the 40th parallel expedition)


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