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Isabel S. Cunningham Collection on Frank N. Meyer


The Isabel Shipley Cunningham Collection on Frank Nicholas Meyer spans the years of 1898-2005. The collection is two and a half linear feet and housed in four boxes. Cunningham, author of Frank N. Meyer: Plant Hunter in Asia (1984), donated the initial collection in September 1995, and made a second donation in April 2006. Elizabeth Ley, former head of the Gardens Unit and former plant records keeper at the United States National Arboretum, served as an intermediary for the second donation. The materials are in good condition and may be used without restrictions. Many items in the collection are reproductions from other repository collections that Cunningham gathered during her research. The first donation was arranged and described by Kristen Romano, a graduate student in the Library School at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1998. The second donation was incorporated into the original collection by Amber Thiele, Chesapeake Information and Research Library Alliance (CIRLA) fellow, in 2006.



Biographical Sketch

Date Event
November 29, 1875 Frans Meijer was born in the Netherlands (his name became Frank Meyer upon arrival in America).
1889 Began working at the Amsterdam Botanical Garden under Hugo de Vries.
1896 Studied at University of Groningen under botanist Professor Fiet.
1896 Meyer left Groningen and went back to Amsterdam to continue working under de Vries.
October 19, 1901 Meyer arrived in America.
October 23, 1901 Erwin Frink Smith helped Meyer find work in the United States Department of Agriculture greenhouses.
1902 Moved to a job in Santa Ana, California to work in the United States Department of Agriculture's Plant Introduction Garden.
1903-1905 Resigned his position at the Plant Introduction Garden and traveled to San Francisco, Guadalajara, Cuba, and then to St. Louis to work at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
March 10, 1905 Meyer received a telegram from Adrian J. Pieters requesting him to become a plant explorer for the United States Department of Agriculture.
1906- 1908 Meyer's first expedition as a plant explorer to China, Manchuria, North Korea, and Siberia.
1908 Meyer returned to America and applied for naturalization papers.
August 1909-
April 1912
Meyer's second expedition led him to England, Belgium, France, Germany, Russia, Turkestan, and Mongolia.
November 1912-
October 1915
Meyer's third expedition took him to Russia, China, and the Kansu Province.
August 1916-
May 1918
Meyer's fourth expedition led him back to China.
May 31, 1918 Meyer disappeared from the ship carrying him home. His body was discovered a week later (June 5) in the Yangtze River.

Scope and Content Note

The Isabel Shipley Cunningham Collection on Frank Nicholas Meyer was created by Isabel Shipley Cunningham before and after publishing Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia (1984). The collection covers Meyer's life, especially his four plant gathering expeditions in Asia, and his surviving plant introductions (plants Meyer brought back from his travels and planted by various people in the United States). Cunningham annotated items throughout the collection. The two and a half linear feet collection covers 1898-2005 with the bulk dates of 1906-1919 and 1980-1987. The collection is arranged into six series: Correspondence; Documents; Research Notes and Annotations; Photographs; Articles; and Maps. Some of the correspondence and articles are in Dutch, which have English translations.

Many items in the collection are reproductions from other repository collections that Cunningham gathered during her research. Some of these items include photocopies of Meyer's original correspondence from Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University; articles about Meyer from libraries in the Netherlands; Meyer's petition for naturalization from the United States Department of Immigration and Naturalization; Meyer's will from the Register of Wills in Washington, D.C.; and other documents from the National Archives and Records Administration's 'Records of Frank N. Meyer, Plant Explorer, 1902-18'. Copyright must be obtained from the institution that houses the original material.

Series Description

Series I. Correspondence. 1907-1994. 18 folders.

This series covers the correspondence of Frank Nicholas Meyer and of Isabel Shipley Cunningham. Meyer's letters concern his professional work. Some letters are annotated by Cunningham. Cunningham's correspondence with colleagues relates to biographical information on Meyer as well as information concerning the surviving Meyer plant introductions. The letters of Meyer are copies of originals held at other institutions. The series is arranged chronologically within two subseries: Frank Nicholas Meyer Correspondence and Isabel Shipley Cunningham Correspondence.

  • Subseries I.A. Frank Nicholas Meyer Correspondence. 1907-1916.
  • This subseries contains the correspondence of Meyer with co-workers and friends during his travels. Information about specific plants and travel plans are included within the letters. Cunningham annotated some of the letters. The letters from Hugo de Vries are in Dutch with English translations. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

  • Subseries I.B. Isabel Shipley Cunningham Correspondence. 1912-1994.
  • While Cunningham was writing her book, she collected correspondence about Meyer and his work and correspondence from people who knew Meyer. Included in this subseries are requests for biographical information on Meyer from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, correspondence about plants introduced by Meyer, and a letter from George C. Gerber to John L. Creech containing information on Meyer's death. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

    Series II. Documents. 1908-1979. 2 folders.

    This series consists of photocopies of official documents about Meyer. The first one is Meyer's petition for naturalization filed July 21, 1908, right after he returned home from his first expedition in China. The second document is a copy of Meyer's last will and testament, witnessed August 5, 1916, with a certification for original copies on August 6, 1979. They are arranged chronologically.

    Series III. Research Notes and Annotations. 1911-1984. 9 folders.

    Cunningham's notes and annotations for writing Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia are in this series. Most of the notes are related to Meyer's letters located at the National Archives and Records Administration. Other notes refer to changes or additions for a second edition of Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia, some of which are annotated in a first edition copy of the book. More notes included are a short bibliography; requests for publication; and information on Meyer plant introductions. Cunningham also annotated items in other series. The series is arranged chronologically.

    Series IV. Photographs. 1898-1994. 62 folders.

    This series contains photographs that Cunningham collected for her book, Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia or received after its publication. The series is divided into subseries: Photographs and Photograph Notes and Annotations. Most of the photographs of Meyer's expeditions are reprints from other repositories. Other photographs are of the existing Meyer plant introductions, with the majority taken at the Tree Improvement Center Pacific Southwest Region in Chico, California. Cunningham's comments about the photographs are included. The series is arranged chronologically within each subseries.

  • Subseries IV.A. Photographs. 1898-1994.
  • This subseries contains photographs of Meyer and his expeditions. Many of these photographs were used in Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia. The other photographs show the surviving Meyer plant introductions planted at the Tree Improvement Center Pacific Southwest Region in Chico, California. These were sent to Cunningham by Paul J. Fitzgerald. The photographs are arranged chronologically.

  • Subseries IV.B. Photograph Notes and Annotations. 1906-1986.
  • This subseries includes Cunningham's notes and annotations about the photographs used in Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia. Some notes refer to photographs that are not used in her book or photographs that are not part of the collection.

    Series V. Articles. 1908-2005. 28 folders.

    Series V contains published articles collected by Cunningham. Two of the articles have been translated from Dutch to English by Jeannette Bouter Bernaerts and Diny Winthagen. The articles cover biographic information on Meyer, information about the plants he found, and the locations of the Meyer plant introductions. Several of the articles have annotations from Cunningham. The articles are arranged chronologically.

    Series VI. Maps. 1905-1918. 6 folders.

    This series includes maps of Meyer's four plant expeditions. All but of one the maps are reproduced in Frank N. Meyer Plant Hunter in Asia. Also included are Isabel Shipley Cunningham's notes to the graphic designer that plotted the route for each expedition. The series is arranged chronologically.

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