William G. Farlow

William G. FarlowWilliam Gilson Farlow was born near Boston, MA on December 17, 1844. Equally gifted in science and music, Farlow stated at his graduation from Harvard in 1866 that he "had no definite plans for life." By the following year, though, he had come to a decision. He entered Harvard Medical School in November of 1867, receiving his M.D. in May of 1870. In July of 1870, Farlow was appointed to assist Asa Gray, Fisher professor of Natural History. He remained in this position for two years. At that time, botany had not yet been established as an academic discipline, and, as Farlow tells us:

It certainly now seems ridiculous that one who had only just finished his medical studies and knew nothing about cryptogams ... should attempt to teach the subject. But the young are courageous, not to say audacious ... and, it must also be admitted, the demands of students for information on the subject were easily satisfied at that time.

However, Farlow's own desire for knowledge was not yet sated. In 1872, wishing to gain greater botanical expertise, he travelled to Europe, where he studied for two years with Anton de Bary and other prominent botanists in Germany, France and Scandinavia. Upon his return, he was made Assistant Professor of Botany in the Bussey Institution, Jamaica Plains. In 1879, Farlow was appointed Professor of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard. He remained in this position for the rest of his life, continuing to advise doctoral candidates even after his retirement from active teaching in 1896.

Farlow married Lillian Horsford in 1900, and their home became a haven for visiting botanists. In addition to advising guests, Farlow assisted many of his students and colleagues through his voluminous correspondence, which gives evidence of great thought and research. He also published many papers and articles on rusts, fungi and algae. His larger publications include the Bibliography of Articles on American Fungi (1887-8), the Host Index to Fungi in the United States (1888), the Bibliographical Index of North American Fungi (1905), and the Icones Farlowianea, published posthumously in 1929.

Farlow Papers
One of Farlow's many journals.
Among the distinctions Farlow attained were honorary degrees from Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Uppsala. He held memberships in the National Academy of Science, the London Linnaean Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and was president of the A.A. A. S., the Botanical Society of America, and the American Naturalists. At least two genera and many species have also been named for him. He will be remembered as a pioneer investigator in plant pathology, who helped establish a systematic nomenclature for fungi, and inspired and directed some of America's leading botanists. He founded and endowed the Harvard Cryptogamic Laboratories, Herbarium, and Library, and donated his personal library to Harvard on his death. He died in Cambridge on June 3, 1919.

Source: Biographical Sketch Source: The Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany Archives, The William Gilson Farlow (1844-1919) Collection

Image: Papers of William Gilson Farlow, 1866-1919 (bulk); Various specimen lists (1-6), 1901-1906; Botany Libraries, Archives of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, Mass.