Guide to the Harold St. John Papers 1912-1957
Cage 319

Summary Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries
St. John, Harold
Harold St. John Papers
Cage 319
Date [inclusive]
4600.0 items.
General Physical Description note
2.5 linear feet of shelf space.
Correspondence, notes, and other papers regarding taxonomic studies of Pacific Northwest plants, the teaching of botany and the administration of herbariums at Washington State University and the University of Hawaii. Significant correspondents include: R.K. Beattie, F.V. Coville, Alice Eastwood, Aven Nelson, C.V. Piper, B.L. Robinson, C.P. Smith, and W.N. Suksdorf.

Preferred Citation note

[Item Description]. Cage 319, Harold St. John Papers. Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

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Biographical/Historical note

Harold St. John was born in 1895 and attended Harvard University, graduating in 1914. Graduate education, work with a Canadian botanical survey and service in the United States army occupied him until 1920, when he received the Ph. D. from Harvard and accepted a teaching position at the State College of Washington, now Washington State University.

St. John had been a student of Merritt L. Fernald and Benjamin Robinson, the successors of Asa Gray at Harvard and the leaders of the International Rule school among American botanists. His early experience also placed considerable emphasis on field botany. Not surprisingly he became close associated of Wilhelm Suksdorf, of whom he wrote a biography.

In conjunction with such Washington botanists as Suksdorf, he began planning for a revised survey of the state’s plants in the early 1920s. Originally he had intended to produce an updated edition of Piper and Beattie’s Flora of Southeast Washington. Piper encouraged the project but died shortly after it began. St. John accordingly began to work on lines of his own, preparing a new work which ultimately appeared in 1936, by which time St. John had moved to a position at the University of Hawaii.

The 1936 Flora of Southeast Washington quickly became the standard field and herbarium guide to the vegetation of the inland Northwest and a later edition remains in wide use in the mid-1970s. The guide was characterized by what the author saw as a rigid application of the International Rule, although it also documents the extent to which the nomenclature dispute had been resolved by the mid-1930s. It also contains many references to regional and ecological variations among species, and other such ideas, which began to supersede the nomenclature dispute as one of the main development in botany. The impact of genetics, however, was little noted in the book.

As with R. Kent Beattie, St. John saw himself as a direct successor of C. V. Piper, although he took the opposite direction of Beattie in the nomenclature dispute. Consequently he remained more of a describer of an guide to plants than did Beattie who essentially became a botanical historian. As Piper’s successor, St. John was quite successful, being the most prominent certain amount of criticism for certain philosophic stands. His major failure occurred when the attempted to inspire a second generation Flora of Western Washington and could not induce anyone to complete it.

St. John remained at the University of Hawaii until retirement in 1958, after which he held various visiting assignments.

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Scope and Contents note

The papers of Harold St. John consist of his correspondence, both incoming and outgoing, relative to taxonomic studies of Northwest vegetation. The major portion dates from his years at Washington State University although a large number of items date from his years at the University of Hawaii and document his continued interest in Northwest botany. A few notes are included with the papers.

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Arrangement note

The papers are arranged with the correspondence in a chronological sequence, and notes separated into a short second series.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries © 2012
Terrell Library
P.O. Box 645610
Pullman, WA, 99164-5610

Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

The papers of Harold St. John, b. 1895, were donated to the Washington State University Herbarium in 1958 by Dr. St. John.

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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 315: Suksdorf, Wilhelm Nicolaus Papers, 1867-1935

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Botanists -- United States -- Correspondence

Personal Name(s)

  • Beattie, R. Kent (Rolla Kent), b. 1875
  • Coville, Frederick V. (Frederick Vernon), 1867-1937
  • Eastwood, Alice, 1859-1953
  • Nelson, Aven, 1859-1952
  • Piper, Charles V. (Charles Vancouver), 1867-1926
  • Robinson, Benjamin Lincoln, 1864-1935
  • Smith, Charles Piper, 1877-
  • St. John, Harold, 1892- --Archives
  • Suksdorf, Wilhelm, 1850-1932


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

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Other Finding Aids note

Northwest Botanical Manuscripts: An Indexed Register of the Papers, 1867-1957, of William Nikolaus Suksdorf, William Conklin Cusick, Charles Vancouver Piper, Rolla Kent Beattie, and Harold St. John. Pullman: Washington State University, 1976. This guide includes a detailed correspondence index. A PDF version is available in the WSU Research Exchange.

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General note

Harold St. John

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Collection Inventory


Box Folder

 1912-1920   30

1 1

 1921   200

1 2

 1922   200

1 3

 1923   210

1 4

 1924   210

1 5

 1925   285

2 6

 1926   200

2 7

 Jan-June 1927   220

2 8

 July-Dec 1927   240

2 9

 Jan-Mar 1928   200

3 10

 Apr-June 1928   250

3 11

 July-Sept 1928   250

3 12

 Oct-Dec 1928   230

3 13

 Jan-June 1929   290

3 14

 July-Dec 1929   200

4 15

 1930   300

4 16

 1931   230

4 17

 1933-1935   125

4 18

 1933-1935   125

4 19

 1935-1936   150

5 20

 1937   130

5 21

 1938-1939   120

5 22

 1940-1943   160

5 23

 1944-1957   130

5 24

Notes ca 1920-1930   50

5 25

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