Joel Elias Spingarn Papers (PP)

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The New York Botanical Garden
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This finding aid was produced in English.

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Collectors: Spingarn, Joel Elias, (1875-1939); Spingarn, Amy (Einstein) Mrs.
Title: Joel Elias Spingarn Papers (PP)
Dates: 1896-1963
Dates: (bulk, 1931-1940)
Abstract: The collection includes research notes, bibliographies, photographs and largely incoming correspondence directly related to research, seed exchange, plant donations, lecture requests, and general questions about the genus Clematis.
Quantity: 11 Boxes; 4.69 linear feet.
Call Phrase: Joel Elias Spingarn (PP)

Biography of Joel Elias Spingarn

Joel Elias Spingarn (1875-1939) was a university professor, solider, civil rights leader, and member of the Board of Managers for The New York Botanical Garden. He was professor (1899-1911) of comparative literature at Columbia, and a founder (1919) of the publishing firm of Harcourt, Brace and Company. His literary work includes A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance (1899), Creative Criticism and Other Essays (1931), and several books of poems. During World War I, Spingarn was active in the United States military where he worked his way up to the rank of colonel.

Throughout his life, Spingarn was actively involved with issues of civil rights; he is probably most noted because of his involment in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was on of the first white leaders of the organization and Chairman of the Board in 1914 where he established the Spingarn Medal; still awarded annually for outstanding achievement by an African American. Spingarn served off and on in the role of chariman up until his death in 1939. His brother, Arthur Spingarn was in charge of the NAACP's legal issues during this time as well.

Spingarn's interest in botany began when he was just a boy. Later in life he took elective classes at the New York Botanical Garden under the Garden's first director, Dr. Nathaniel L. Britton. Soon though, he became focused more on horticulture; he began working with perennials and rock gardens on his Troutbeck estate in Amenia, New York. He explored further and was introduced to the genus Clematis on a visit to England in the late 1920s. After discovering that nearly all of the varieties he encountered were unobtainable in the United States, he made it his mission to import them all. At one time, with the addition of a new propagation greenhouse on the estate, Spingarn was responsible for the largest collection in the world of species and varieties of Clematis. He wrote extensively in horticulture periodicals and journals. Spingarn was also a prolific speaker on the subject of Clematis; he was invited to speak at local and national horticulture clubs and flower shows. He also wrote on the early history of landscape gardening and horticulture in Dutchess County, New York.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of incoming correspondence on subjects including specimen requests, and receipts, lecture requests from various horticulture clubs, inquiries into seed location, and notes of thanks regarding seed donations. Subject files address diseases affecting Clematis, correspondence regarding the use of hops as fertilizer, and seed import documentation. Correspondents represented include nurserymen and florists, amateur gardeners, writers and editors, and consular officials whom Spingarn wrote in his efforts to find and introduce into commerce new types of Clematis. There is a card catalog of bibliographies and research notes created by Spingarn that is devoted entirely to the genus Clematis. Additionally, the collection contains scrapbooks that include newspaper articles about Spingarn, his work in the field of horticulture and landscape gardening, and excerpts from seed catalogs. There is a card catalog inventory of plants located on the Spingarn property, Torutbeck, in Amenia, New York. Finally, there is a collection of plant photographs and negatives, largely Clematis, by various photographers including Sylvia Saunders, William Beebe Wilder, G.W. Harting, and Donald Merrett.

**Note that the negatives in this collection have been removed. See the "Separated Materials" heading in this finding aid for a current location.


The Collection is organized into seven series:
Series 1: Correspondence. 1931-1940. arranged alphabetically.
Series 2: Subject Files. 1931-1963.
Series 3: Bibliographies. undated.
Series 4: Research Notes. undated.
Series 5: Inventory of Troutbeck Plants. ca.1933
Series 6: Scrapbooks. 1896-1938. arranged alphabetically.
Series 7: Photographs. ca. 1933-1935. arranged alphabetically.


Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research with permission from Mertz Library staff.


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be submitted in writing to the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Spingarn, Amy (Einstein), Mrs.--Correspondence
Spingarn, Joel Elias, (1875-1939)
Landscape Gardening--New York (State)--Dutchess County
Amenia (N.Y.)
Jamaica Plain (Boston, Mass.)
Arnold Arboretum
New York Botanical Garden
Document Types
letters, correspondence

Related Material

Yale University

JWJ MSS 11 Joel E. Spingarn Collection, 1910-1947.

The New York Public Library

Joel E. Spingarn papers, 1890-1939.

Henry Winthrop Sargent and the early history of landscape gardening and ornamental horticulture in Dutchess County, New York, [Microform]

New York Botanical Garden Library

VF Spingarn, Mr. and Mrs. Joel E.

Separated Material

Negatives have been removed from the collection and rehoused in the film vault of The LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. A Separation Sheet is located in the original folder.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Joel Elias Spingarn Papers (PP), Archives, The New York Botanical Garden.

Acquisition Information

This colleciton was transferred to the Archives of the New York Botanical Garden in February 1980. The original accession number is MSS x130.

Processing Information

Processed November 2004 by Kathleene Konkle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-50678-04.

Container List


Series 1. Correspondence.

Scope and Content:

Correspondence pertaining to plant descriptions, acknowledgements of receipt of specimens, and lecture requests.

Folder Title
1.1 Correspondence A-E
1.2 Free, Montague
1.3 Farrar, F.F.
1.4 Correspondence F
1.5 Correspondence G
1.6 George and Son, James I.
2.1 Correspondence H
2.2 Correspondence I-J
2.3 India and Indo Malaysia
2.4 Correspondence K
2.5 Correspondence L
2.6 Lown, Clarence
2.7 Correspondence M
2.8 Markham, Ernest
3.1 Correspondence P
3.2 Correspondence Q
3.3 Correspondence R
3.4 Correspondence S
3.5 Correspondence T
3.6 Correspondence U-V
3.7 Correspondence W

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Series 2. Subject Files.

Scope and Content:

Notes and correspondence on Clematis topics including diseases, fertilization and history. There is also a small collection of letters addressed to Mrs. Spingarn, as well as reprints of J.E. Spingarns writings.

Folder Title
4.1 Clematis-Bibliography
4.2 Clematis-Competition
4.3 Clematis-Diseases
4.4 Clematis-General
4.5 Clematis-History
4.6 Clematis-Northeast Gardens
4.7 Clematis-Photographs (Copies)
4.8 Clematis-Slide List
4.9 Clematis-Troutbeck
4.10 Dutchess County Horticulture History
4.11 Dutchess County Horticulture and Landscape Gardening History
4.12 Hops Usage as Mulch
4.13 Import (Seed) Documentation
4.14 Miscellaneous
4.15 Mrs. Spingarn Correspondence
4.16 Notes-Miscellaneous
4.17 Photo Exchange Correspondence
4.18 Reprints
4.19 Seed Envelopes

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Series 3. Bibliographies.

Scope and Content:

Handwritten index cards containing notes and observations regarding Clematis.

Box Title
5 Bibliographies
6 Bibliographies
7 Bibliographies

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Series 4. Research Notes.

Scope and Content:

Handwritten index cards include location and description of all plants and shrubs on the Troutbeck property.

Box Title
8 Clematis Now Here
8 Culture of Clematis
8 Seeds Sown
8 Classification
8 Types of Clematis

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Series 5. Inventory of Troutbeck Plants.

Scope and Content:

Miscellaneous newspaper clippings and seed catalog pages pertaining to Clematis.

Box Title
9 Home Collection
9 Big Nursery--Field Garden

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Series 6. Scrapbooks.

Scope and Content:

Miscellaneous newspaper clippings and seed catalog pages pertaining to Clematis.

Box Title
10 Scrapbooks

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Series 7. Photographs.

Scope and Content:

Varying sizes of black and white photographs. Includes photos of Clematis from Troutbeck and the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. There are examples of Clematis used in Asian art and the International Flower Show exhibit, 1934. Photographs by specific photographers include William Beebe, G.W. Harting and Donald Merrett. Additionally, there is one undated portrait of J.E. Spingarn.

**Note: Negatives have been removed. See Separation Sheet.

Folder Title
11.1 Arnold Arboretum
11.2 Chinese and Japanese Art
11.3 Finn, Caesar
11.4 Garden Chronicle (Copies)
11.5 Harting, G. W.
11.6 Herbert
11.7 Houses
11.8 International Flower Show, 1934
11.9 Levick, Edwin
11.10 Merrett, Donald (#1)
11.11 Merrett, Donald (#2)
11.12 Miscellaneous
11.13 Nintentini, Noel
11.14 Portait, J.E. Spingarn
11.15 Saunders, Sylvia
11.16 Spingarn, Amy/Troutbeck
11.17 Wilder, Walter Beebe

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