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Deborah Griscom Passmore Watercolors


The Deborah Griscom Passmore Watercolors occupy 4 linear feet, consisting of 1 oversize folio box and 1 standard folio box. The collection was accessioned by the National Agricultural Library on January 13, 1924, and was present in Special Collections as of 1995. The collection was described and the print and online finding aids created by Marianne C. Riley in the fall of 2001.

Finding Aid File


Biographical Sketch

Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) was an artist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Division of Pomology for nineteen years. While her work for USDA focused on fruits, she was also a skilled painter of flowers and cacti.

Deborah G. Passmore was born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, on July 17, 1840, to Everett Griscom Passmore (1787-1868) and Elizabeth K. Knight (c.1800-1845). She carried the name of her paternal grandmother, Deborah Griscom (b.1758), who was a first cousin to Betsy Ross (Elizabeth Griscom, 1752-1836). Deborah G. Passmore was raised and educated within the Orthodox Quaker community, before continuing her art education in Philadelphia. She was a student of the School of Design and the Academy of Fine Arts there, and studied under several famous artists, including Thomas Moran.

After working for several years as a teacher in Philadelphia, Passmore relocated to Washington, D.C., and accepted an appointment with USDA in 1892. Many of her works for USDA may be found in agency reports and publications, such as USDA Bulletin No. 7, Fruit Industry. Additional print images of Passmore's pomological works may be found in the Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1902-1911, accompanying the annual article by William A. Taylor entitled "Promising New Fruits." Passmore also maintained an independent studio and taught art in Washington, D.C.

Deborah G. Passmore died in her home on January 3, 1911.

Extended Biographical Sketch (PDF|31KB)

Scope and Content Note

Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) was a botanical artist employed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for nineteen years. This collection contains an unpublished volume entitled Flowers in Water Color: Wildflowers of America (NAL call no. 455 P26 R Fo) that she created outside the scope of her work with USDA, and a second box of related, unbound items. There are sixty-one original, signed Passmore watercolors in this collection, as well as several signed sketches, unsigned works, and two watercolors signed by an unknown artist, Dora Paxon. Many of the original Passmore works are labeled with their subject's scientific name in the bottom right-hand corner. Some of these labels are unsigned. However, many are signed or initialed by Edward Lee Greene (1843-1915). He was a well known botanist of the period, and former teacher at the University of California at Berkeley and the Catholic University of America (1885-1904), as well as an associate in botany at the Smithsonian Institution (1904-1909). Additional information on Edward Lee Greene may be found in the University of Notre Dame Archives. A detailed listing of the scientific labels from this volume and their common name equivalents are included in the container list of this finding aid. Italicized scientific names not in brackets are transcribed directly from the volume; all other common names and notations were assigned during the preparation of this finding aid in 2001.

The volume in Box 1 was likely bound posthumously in 1911 by family, friends or associates of Passmore. It begins with an anonymous, typescript biography of Passmore which is immediately followed by a brief, handwritten note detailing Passmore's death, and the signature of Carrie Harrison. Her relationship to Passmore is unknown, but she may have been a botanist in the Bureau of Plant Industry, USDA. There are also several newspaper obituaries pasted onto the end of the typescript, below Carrie Harrison's signature. This biography section (pages i-iv) is immediately followed by the title page and the majority of the signed Passmore works. It appears that one of those works was moved to the rear of the volume and replaced by a Dora Paxon work; the Passmore original from page 33 now appears on page 79. Several period black and white photostats of unsigned or Passmore works are included in the last half of the book. Also included are a group of unsigned works. The volume is completed by a group of Passmore sketches that are partially colored, perhaps by Passmore's students. One original Passmore watercolor was removed from the volume at an unknown time, and is now housed in Box 2 with the unbound, related items. An original photograph of Passmore is also included within this box of unbound material.


Common flower names used in the container list were drawn from the following:

Keeler, Harriet L. The Wayside Flowers of Summer. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917.

McKenny, Margaret and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968.

Rickett, Harold William. The New Field Book of American Wild Flowers. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1963.

University of Connecticut. "UConn Plant Database" Accessed December 18, 2001.

Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association and Michigan State University Extension. "Ornamental Plants plus 3.0" Accessed December 18, 2001.

For further research on Deborah Griscom Passmore:

A small collection of Passmore's cacti watercolors are in the collections of the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. They may be viewed online through links available from the Smithsonian Botanical Illustrations Catalog along with a brief biographical note. These watercolors appeared in print in The Cactaceae by Nathaniel Lord Britton and J. N. Rose, published in Washington, D.C. by The Carnegie Institution of Washington, in four volumes, from 1919-1923. Unfortunately, her original illustrations only appear in the first (1919-1923) printing of the four-volume set, and were replaced by photostats of her images or photographs of plant specimens in subsequent printings and editions.

Many of the pomological watercolors created by Passmore during her years with the USDA (1892-1911) may be found within the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.

Other strawberry images are available online as part of the Papers of George M. Darrow.

Several prints of original Passmore pomology images are on permanent exhibit in the main reading room of the National Agricultural Library. Images include the Calamondian orange, 1909, the Miller raspberry, 1895, and the Steptoe plum, 1894.

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