History of the Farlow

Below are excerpts from articles in past Friends of the Farlow Newsletters entiteld  "History of the Farlow: Parts I-III" by Lisa DeCesare.

The Origins of the Farlow

William G. FarlowIn 1870, William G. Farlow became Asa Gray's assistant at Harvard. Gray asked Farlow, who had completed his medical degree, to be responsible for improving instruction in cryptogamic botany. To expand his knowledge of the subject, Farlow studied in Europe from 1872-1874.  While in Europe, Farlow secured some important specimen collections, including the mycological herbarium of M.A. Curtis. This collection contained original material from M.J. Berkeley, Lewis David von Schweinitz, and Elias Fries, among numerous other luminaries in the field of mycology.

Upon his return to Harvard in 1874, Farlow was appointed Assistant Professor of Botany at Harvard’s Bussey Institute in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, where he studied diseases caused by fungi and devoted time to teaching students. The use of his specimen collections was an essential part of his teaching.

Source: History of the Farlow Part I: The Origins of the Farlow Library and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany (FoF Newsletter Spring 2008, pg. 8)

Image: William Gilson Farlow in Strasbourg, 1872. From the Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany

The Beginnings of the Herbarium

Farlow at work
While Farlow was in Europe in 1872, he purchased the fungi portion of M. A. Curtis's herbarium. In the summer of 1873, Farlow traveled to Geneva to study with Dr. Jean Müller. While there, he journeyed further to Jura and collected quite a few of the smaller fungi and a large number of what he considered to be valuable lichens. Farlow also collected cryptogamic exsiccatae - bound, indexed serials of dried specimens. 

In 1874, Farlow returned to Harvard and by March 1879, he was appointed Professor of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard University. His salary was very low and he was not provided with lab or research space by the University. In spite of this, the University requested that Farlow turn over his collection of specimens to them. Farlow was rightfully uncomfortable doing that until he could be assured that the University would allot money for the care and upkeep of the specimens. 

Finally, on April 4, 1879, an agreement was reached. The Harvard Corporation agree to pay “a sum not less than three hundred and fifty dollars annually” for the maintenance and increase of the Cryptogamic Herbarium. The collections that Farlow had carefully cultivated were now part of Harvard University.  By 1896, Farlow estimated that the herbarium numbered several hundred thousand specimens. The centerpiece of the fungi collection was the Rev. M. A. Curtis's specimens, purchased during Farlow's study in Europe during the 1870s. The lichens were represented by Edward Tuckerman's collection, purchased in 1888 with funds from friends of the University. Now the Farlow Herbaria had the largest lichen and algae collections in the United States.  

Source: History of the Farlow Part II: The Beginnings of the Herbarium (FoF Newsletter Fall 2008, pg. 8)

Image: Farlow at his desk, circa 1900. From the Archives of the Friends of the Farlow Newsletters. 

Financing the Farlow

Farlow Herbaria, circa 1923William Gilson Farlow offered significant financial support offered to Harvard for the growth and upkeep of the cryptogamic collections. In addition to supplying funds for purchasing collections, building his personal library, sharing his appointment with Professor Roland Thaxter and paying the salary of their assistant, Arthur Bliss Seymour, Farlow also presented Harvard with a large gift in 1898, the John S. Farlow Memorial Fund.

Farlow asked that the proportionate interest of the fund should be devoted to the care and increase of the collections of cryptogamic plants. The conditions of the fund also specified that Farlow would have charge and direction of the cryptogamic collection during his life and be relieved of all other university duties. He specified that he should receive $4,000 annually from the President & Fellows of Harvard College until his death.

He also specified that the name Farlow Collection would be given to the collection of cryptogams that were located in the Botanical Museum at that time (with the exception of the Tuckerman collection). The President and Fellows would be required to provide $3,000 each year for support of the Farlow Herbarium. This money would include salaries for assistants and clerks with, once again, no money earmarked for teaching. The University agreed and the John S. Farlow Memorial Fund went into effect August 1, 1898.

The next large financial undertaking for the Farlow Herbarium happened after Farlow died on June 3, 1919. In his will, Farlow offered Harvard University his world class library if the Corporation met certain very detailed provisions within three years. If they did not meet these criteria, his collection would go to another institution. On March 13, 1922 the President and Fellows of Harvard College voted to turn over the Divinity Library Building to the Farlow collections.  Roland Thaxter, Farlow’s student and colleague coordinated fundraising for renovations of the building that would house Farlow's herbarium and library. Further funds were provided by William's wife, Lillian Farlow and John Pierpont Morgan, Jr, one of his students. 

Source: History of the Farlow Part III: Financing the Farlow (FoF Newsletter Spring 2009, pg. 12)

Image: Farlow Herbarium, cira 1923. From the Archives of the Friends of the Farlow Newsletters.