Guide to the Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers 1867-1935
Cage 315

Summary Information

Repository
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
Creator
Suksdorf, Wilhelm Nikolaus
Title
Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers
ID
Cage 315
Date [inclusive]
1867-1935
Extent
5900.0 items.
General Physical Description note
7.5 linear feet of shelf space.
Language
English
Abstract
Correspondence, enclosures, bills and receipts, drafts, and copies of writings, herbarium catalogs, field notes, maps, diaries, published works and other papers, part in German, of a Pacific Northwest botanical collector. Although primarily concerned with his collection of plants and the subsequent classification and distribution of specimens, some personal and family papers are included. Correspondents include: R. Kent Beattie, Alice Eastwood, Asa Gray, Louis Henderson, Thomas Howell, Charles Piper, and Harold St. John.

Preferred Citation note

[Item Description]. Cage 315, Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf Papers . Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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Biographical/Historical note

The long and complex, if outwardly simple, life of Wilhelm Suksdorf began in rural Germany, near Kiel, in 1850. At the age of eight he emigrated to northeastern Iowa with his family. He lived there until 1874. In 1876 he was enrolled in a science/agriculture course at the University of California. Before graduating, however, he left school to join his father and several brothers at White Salmon, Washington, where he entered into their various farming and town promotion activities.

He started making botanical observations of an informal sort in Iowa, continued in California and began serious reconnaissance and collecting of Washington plants during the summer vacation of 1875. As much of the Washington vegetation could not be identified with existing manuals, in 1878 Suksdorf began corresponding with Asa Gray at Harvard University, in an effort to have his collection identified and named. Encouraged by Gray, who named a genus of plants for him, and by a visiting expedition of botanists in 1880, Suksdorf decided to make a serious distribution of Washington plants. These he offered for sale in 1882, the first of his thirteen fascicles of Washington plants.

In 1886, Gray asked Suksdorf to join him at Harvard as an assistant, apparently intending that the position would become permanent. A combination of complex circumstances, along with various physical and mental health problems which plagued him throughout his life, led Suksdorf to abandon Harvard in 1888. After a time of inactivity, he returned to collecting Washington plants and to a regular pattern of publication of his findings. Difficulties arose, however, because of his limitations with English and a strong personal desire to write in German. Consequently, many of his articles appeared in German and Austrian journals, or in obscure American journals which would carry articles written in German. This position, along with his strong adherence to the "International Rule" school of thought, led him into many minor disputes with botanists for the rest of his life. In the 1920s, he resolved some of these difficulties by founding a personal journal, Werdenda, which gave him an outlet for his views.

Suksdorf continued to live at Bingen, Washington, a town he and his brothers founded, for the rest his life and his botanical labors accordingly tended to reflect the vegetation of adjacent Klickitat County. This area contained vegetation representative of both humid, wooded Western Washington and arid, open Eastern Washington along with a major alpine area, Mt. Adams, which Suksdorf, following Indian practice, called Mt. Paddo. Thus he was exposed to much of the state’s varied flora without traveling great distances. He did, nevertheless, collect plants in the Spokane area in parts of Oregon and Idaho near to Washington, at one location in Montana and while on a major trip to California in 1913. In the 1920s he spent two winters at Washington State University, as a special fellow of the herbarium.

Suksdorf’s outlook on botany had been colored by his early exposure to the ideas of Asa Gray and the basic ideas of the Candollean school, as well as by his own personal experiences and emotions relative to the out-of-doors and to plants. Occupationally, philosophically, scientifically and emotionally he was a "naturalist," reflecting every sense of the meaning of the term. This led him to some practices which caused many to regard him as an eccentric: his reclusiveness, his preferences for field botany over laboratory study, and his tendency to be a splitter of species. For decades he fought against those botanical ideas which came from abstract study in herbaria and libraries and insisted that plants must be seen in the field for an understanding. Although this fight with academic botanists was generally a losing battle, Suksdorf continued to hope for a return of naturalism even to the later years of his life. He expressed this idea in 1928 when he wrote, "A collector sees the plants in the field and mostly many of each kind he collects, but his notes or remarks are seldom considered of importance. That was so, at least in the past. But I knew one botanist who was different; that was Dr. Gray. To him the collector was a helper, not merely a collector." (16 June 1928, Harold St. John Papers).

Suksdorf died in a freakish and not very well understood railroad accident near his home in 1932.

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Scope and Contents note

The papers contain Suksdorf’s correspondence, along with many enclosures; his diaries; drafts or copies of many of his writings; his catalog of his herbarium; and many of his field notes, along with maps and explanations of place names. Most materials relate to Suksdorf’s plant collecting, subsequent classification and distribution of specimens, and his professional writing. Materials from the papers of Fermen Pickett, Alice Eastwood, and Carleton Ball are interfiled within the correspondence. Both personal and scientific correspondence is included. Approximately one-fourth of the material is in German.

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Arrangement note

The papers are arranged in five series; correspondence, writings, notes, diaries and oversize material. The correspondence has been arranged in chronological sequence. A sub-series contains many enclosures, bills and receipts which had been separated from the correspondence in previous handling of the papers. Other series include Suksdorf’s articles, drafts and notes, his herbarium catalog, his botanical notes, his diaries and other biographical material, and some oversize notes, maps and drawings.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 1976

http://www.wsulibs.wsu.edu/masc
Terrell Library
P.O. Box 645610
Pullman, WA, 99164-5610
509-335-6691
mascref@wsu.edu

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research use.

Custodial History note

The papers of Wilhelm N. Suksdorf, 1850-1932, of Bingen, Washington, were acquired by the Washington State University Herbarium in 1933 as a part of the bequest which willed Suksdorf's herbarium and library to the University. The herbarium added and interfiled various materials during the 1940s, principally from the papers of Fermen Pickett of Washington State University, Alice Eastwood of the California Academy of Sciences and Carleton Ball of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

The materials in this collection of botanical documents were transferred to the Washington State University Library in 1975 from the university’s Ownbey Herbarium.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

Additional Botanical manuscripts in MASC may be found in the following collections:

Cage 318 Beattie, Rolla Kent Papers, 1899-1956

Cage 53 Botanical papers, 1881-1973

Cage 316 Cusick, William Conklin Papers, 1906-1924

Cage 317 Piper, Charles Vancouver Papers, 1888-1926

Cage 319 St. John, Harold Papers, 1912-1957

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Controlled Access Headings

Occupation(s)

  • Botanists--United States--Correspondence

Personal Name(s)

  • Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), b. 1875
  • Eastwood, Alice, 1859-1953
  • Gray, Asa, 1810-1888
  • Henderson, Louis Fourniquet, 1853-
  • Howell, Thomas Jefferson, 1842-1912
  • Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926
  • St. John, Harold, 1892-
  • Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932. --Archives

Subject(s)

  • Botany -- Research--Northwest, Pacific
  • Science
  • Washington (State)

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General note

W. N. Suksdorf ca. 1885

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Bibliography

Biographical sketches of Suksdorf include: George Neville Jones, "William N. Suksdorf," Washington Historical Quarterly, 24 (1933) 128-129; Alice L. Kibbe, Afield with Plant Lovers and Collectors (Carthage, Ill.: Carthage College, 1953) 353-356; Erwin F. Lange, "Pioneer Botanists of the Pacific Northwest," Oregon Historical Quarterly, 57 (1956) 113-114; Harold St. John, "Biography of Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf, 1850-1932, Pioneer Botanist of the State of Washington," Research Studies, 23 (1955) 225-282; and William A. Weber, The Botanical Collections of Wilhelm N. Suksdorf (Master’s Thesis, Washington State University, 1942), partially reprinted in Research Studies, 12 (1944) 51-122. Weber’s essay contains detailed explanations of Suksdorf’s symbols, as well as a detailed itinerary of his collecting trips.

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Collection Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence 

General Correspondence 

Box-folder

 1869-1879   90.0 items.

1 / 1

 1880-1881   60.0 items.

1 / 2

 1882   110.0 items.

1 / 3

 1883   110.0 items.

1 / 4

 1884   160.0 items.

1 / 5

 1885   150.0 items.

2 / 6

 1886   120.0 items.

2 / 7

 1887   70.0 items.

2 / 8

 1888   25.0 items.

2 / 9

 1889   30.0 items.

2 / 10

 1890   80.0 items.

2 / 11

 1891   60.0 items.

2 / 12

 1892   125.0 items.

2 / 13

 1893   125.0 items.

3 / 14

 1894   150.0 items.

3 / 15

 1895   130.0 items.

3 / 16

 1896   100.0 items.

3 / 17

 1897   110.0 items.

3 / 18

 1898   70.0 items.

4 / 19

 1899   45.0 items.

4 / 20

 1900   80.0 items.

4 / 21

 1901   100.0 items.

4 / 22

 1902   120.0 items.

4 / 23

 1903   75.0 items.

4 / 24

 1904   60.0 items.

4 / 25

 1905   90.0 items.

4 / 26

 1906   100.0 items.

5 / 27

 1907   80.0 items.

5 / 28

 1908   80.0 items.

5 / 29

 1909   95.0 items.

5 / 30

 1910   55.0 items.

5 / 31

 1911   45.0 items.

5 / 32

 1912   60.0 items.

5 / 33

 1913   40.0 items.

5 / 34

 1914   90.0 items.

5 / 35

 1915   75.0 items.

5 / 36

 1916   70.0 items.

6 / 37

 1917   70.0 items.

6 / 38

 1918   60.0 items.

6 / 39

 1919   80.0 items.

6 / 40

 1920   155.0 items.

6 / 41

 1921   135.0 items.

6 / 42

 1922   100.0 items.

7 / 43

 1923   125.0 items.

7 / 44

 1924   170.0 items.

7 / 45

 1925   110.0 items.

7 / 46

 1926   90.0 items.

8 / 47

 1927   95.0 items.

8 / 48

 1928   120.0 items.

8 / 49

 1929   75.0 items.

8 / 50

 1930-1932   100.0 items.

8 / 51

 undated   190.0 items.

8 / 52

Supplemental Correspondence, Enclosures, Bills and Receipts 

Box-folder

Correspondence of Theodor Suksdorf and Fermen Pickett, and others, relative to the estate of Wilhelm Suksdorf and acquisition of the Suksdorf herbarium 1928-1935   130.0 items.

8 / 53

Copies of correspondence with Alice Eastwood 1913-1930   20.0 items.

9 / 54

Extracts of correspondence of the several Suksdorf brothers, relative to business arrangements 1872-1917   50.0 items.

9 / 55

Enclosures, advertisements, printed materials, circulars and brochures from the correspondence of Wilhelm Suksdorf 1875-1930   250.0 items.

9 / 56

Bills and receipts 1875-1930   300.0 items.

9 / 57-59

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Series 2: Writings 

Box-folder

Flora of Washington, catalogs for Fascicles 1 through 13 of plants distributions; irregular price lists 1882-1928   30.0 items.

10 / 60

Flora Washingtonensis, Phaenogamia and Pteridophyta of Washington 1895   1.0 item.

10 / 61

Articles, notices and reprints 1895-1910   10.0 items.

10 / 62

Flora of Mt. Adams, known to the Natives as Mt. Paddo, draft copy 1898   1.0 item.

10 / 63

Werdenda.  Beitrage zur Pflanzenkunde, Band I, Nos. 1-18. 1923-1931   15.0 items.

10 / 64

Werdenda, drafts, including some notes on the genus  Ansinckia 1925-1931   50.0 items.

10 / 65-67

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Series 3: Notes 

Herbarium Catalog 

Box-folder

Washington 1-1837 

11 / 68

Washington 1838-4653 

11 / 69

Washington 4654-8437 

11 / 70

Washington 8438-11495 

11 / 71

Washington 11496-13883 

11 / 72

Oregon 

11 / 73

California 

11 / 74

Montana 

11 / 75

Idaho 

11 / 76

Botanical Notes 

Box-folder

Flora Von Washington 1887   1

12 / 77

Records and notes of distribution 1882-1910   2

12 / 78

Catalogs of other collectors.   20.0 items.

12 / 79-80

Collections notes 1904-1908   19

13 / 81

Maps, keys to symbols, place names, Indian words and other such notes 1890-1925   50.0 items.

13 / 82

Determinations 1885-1920   60.0 items.

13 / 83-85

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Series 4: Diaries and Biographical Materials 

Box-folder

Diaries 1867-1882   15.0 items.

14 / 86

Iowa plants and Diary 1871-1876   1.0 item.

14 / 87

Journal of Trip to California 1913   1.0 item.

14 / 88

Photographs, chiefly portraits   13.0 items.

14 / 89

Drawings and water colors 1860-1869   2

14 / 90

Notes of biographers, several short biographic sketches 1920s-1955   10.0 items.

14 / 91

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Series 5: Oversize 

Box-folder

Notes of Flora of Mt. Adams, Falcon Valley, Butterfly Lake; maps and drawings of these and other locations 1895-1920   35.0 items.

14 / 92

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