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Flora of North America

Art Collections Harry Ardell Allard Collection
Fannie Elisabeth Waugh Davis Collection
Anne Ophelia Todd Dowden Collection
Georg Dionys Ehret Collection

Andreas Friedrich Happe Collection
Hitchcock-Chase Collection of Grass Drawings

Margaret Mee Collection
Gilbert M. Smith Collection
Isaac Sprague Collection
Torner Collection of Sessé and Mociño Biological Illustrations
U.S.D.A. Forest Service Collection
Wall Chart Collection
Frederick Andrews Walpole Collection

Hitchcock-Chase Collection

Albert Spear Hitchcock in his U.S.D.A. office, Washington, D.C., ca.1908. HI Archives portrait no. 6.
Mary Agnes Chase, holding a specimen of Paspalum splendens, U.S. National Herbarium, 1956. © Washington Post. HI Archives portrait no. 1.

Albert Spear Hitchcock  Mary Agnes Chase   Bibliography

The Hitchcock-Chase Collection consists of 2,707 drawings (mostly ink, but some pencil) of grasses, representing hundreds of genera, that were assembled by the Smithsonian Institution agrostologists Albert Spear Hitchcock (1865–1935) and Mary Agnes Chase (1869–1963). The collection is on indefinite loan to Hunt Institute from the Smithsonian and is, to our knowledge, the only such collection of grass illustrations.

Some of the illustrations in this collection were reproduced in Hitchcock's Manual of the Grasses of the United States, Manual of the Grasses of the West Indies, and North American Species of Agrostis and in Chase's The North American Species of Paspalum, as well as in Lamson-Scribner's American Grasses (Illustrated) and Swallen's The Grasses of British Honduras and the Petén, Guatemala.

The Hitchcock-Chase Collection features botanical illustrations by both Chase and Hitchcock, as well as by artists A. H. Baldwin, (Miss) M. D. Baker, Mary Wright Gill, Frank Lamson-Scribner, W. R. Scholl, Theodore Holm, Leta Hughey, Benjamin Y. Morrison, Mrs. George M. Mullett, Frances Carnes Weintraub, Edna May Whitehorn, and unidentified artists. The descriptions and the images are now available online in the Catalogue of the Botanical Art Collection at the Hunt Institute database. For quick access to the images in this collection, see the Art Collections page, which features search results for each of the Art Department collections for which images have been added to the database. Otherwise, users can locate this information in the database by entering either the artist's name or Hitchcock-Chase Collection.

The images in this collection are available to scientists, researchers and publishers for reproduction. Agrostologists, taxonomists and teachers of botany, for instance, are likely to find the collection to be of special interest. Because these artworks are in the public domain, the Institute does not charge its customary publication fees when these images are published. These images can be downloaded from the database. The images vary in size. If the image you wish to print will not fit on one page, please adjust your printing preferences. When using these images, please include the following credit statement: Hitchcock-Chase Collection of Grass Drawings, courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., on indefinte loan from the Smithsonian Institution. The artworks also are available for on-site viewing by researchers; please contact the Art Department for additional information or to arrange a visit.

Albert Spear Hitchcock

Botanical explorer and systematic agrostologist Albert Spear Hitchcock was born in Owosso, Michigan, on 4 September 1865, grew up in Kansas and Nebraska, and attended Iowa Agricultural College (later Iowa State College and now Iowa State University of Science and Technology) in Ames. Although he had long been interested in plants and studied botany under professor Charles E. Bessey, he earned a B.S. in agriculture and graduate degrees in chemistry and went on to teach chemistry at Iowa State from 1886 to 1889. When he could no longer resist the lure of botany as a full-time occupation, he accepted positions as librarian and curator of the herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden and also taught in the Engelmann School of Botany, Washington University.


At age 15 (1880), about to enter Iowa Agricultural College. Studio photograph by Alex. Lozo, St. Joseph, Missouri. HI Archives portrait no. 1.

In 1890, he married Rania Belle Dailey, with whom he had five children. He moved to Kansas State Agricultural College in Manhattan, where from 1892 to 1901 he was a professor of botany and botanist to the Experiment Station. During this period he began to travel extensively, seeking types of grasses for his research on the world's grass genera. In "Dr. Albert Spear Hitchcock—An appreciation," F. A. McClure remarked that Hitchcock's "field work was not perfunctory...and he set a rare example in the intimacy with which he penetrated the private life of the plants he studied. At the same time, his love of the grasses was so spontaneous and so strong that he never wasted an opportunity to extend his knowledge of them" (1936, Lingnan Sci. J. 15(2): 305–306).

Hitchcock at age 23, exploring in Iowa City with vasculum slung over shoulder, ca.1888. His first publication was an 1891 catalogue of the flora of Ames, Iowa, an expression of his fondness for the region and his fascination with its plant life. HI Archives portrait no. 2.

Hitchcock's colleague Mary Agnes Chase knew well Hitchcock's dedication to his science, recounting how he had once walked 242 miles in 24 consecutive days and camped at night, all the while toting a special wheelbarrow he had designed especially for botanizing. On the subject of his fieldwork in the salt marshes of the Gulf Coast, Hitchcock remarked: "I waded through water almost up to my knees, pushed my wheelbarrow, and still managed to keep my collection dry. The mosquitoes were very bad. I had to put on my coat, put cheesecloth around my head and a pair of extra socks on my hands. My shoes had worn through and my feet were blistered.... But, for all the discomforts, the collecting was magnificent, and I felt fully repaid." The fruits of this period's botanical labors were over 80 papers, including papers on grasses and the flora of Kansas, and Experiment Station bulletins and circulars.

In 1901 Hitchcock became assistant chief in the U.S.D.A.'s Division of Agrostology in Washington, D.C., and in 1905 he was promoted to systematic agrostologist at the U.S.D.A. and also appointed custodian of the newly established Section of Grasses; Chase assumed the custodianship of the grass herbarium at Hitchcock's death (see also: Morton, C. V. and W. L. Stern. 1966. The United States National Herbarium. Pl. Sci. Bull. 12(2): 1–8). U.S.D.A. made the grass collection a priority, and Hitchcock built upon the work of his predecessors George Vasey and Frank Lamson-Scribner. Determined to build the grass collection and "insatiably eager to see every part of the earth" (Chase, 1936, eulogy), Hitchcock visited every state in the U.S., as well as the West Indies, Cuba, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, and China, and traveled throughout Africa, Indochina, Central and South America as well. In 1928 he was promoted to principal botanist in charge of systematic agrostology in the U.S.D.A.

From 1905 on, he filled 45 field books with notes, and for nearly 40 years, beginning with an account of the grasses of Kansas (1896–1898), published extensively on Gramineae, authoring over 250 works, several jointly with Chase. His publications include A Text-Book of Grasses (1914), The Genera of the Grasses of the United States (1920), Methods of Descriptive Systematic Botany (1925), Manual of the Grasses of the United States (1935), and Manual of the Grasses of the West Indies (1936), and monographs of the American species of Agrostis, Leptochloa, Panicum (with Chase), and Aristida.


Hitchcock atop Mt. Rainier, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington, at age 43 (1908). HI Archives portrait no. 5.


In addition to his ongoing botanical exploration, collection, and scholarship, Hitchcock played an active role in many American and international botanical societies and committees, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Research Council, the Botanical Society of America, the Organization Committee for Biological Research of the National Research Council, and the Executive Committee of the Institute for Research in Tropical America. Special notice should be given to his work on botanical nomenclature, where his practical views often contributed to international agreement on divisive subjects.
In Kaholuamano, Hawaii, with his son Albert Edwin Hitchcock, in 1916. Hitchcock spent 5 months botanizing in the islands, trailing over bubbly lava and sleeping in a cave. He often was accompanied on his trips by his wife and sons, who served as his assistant botanists. HI Archives portrait A. S. Hitchcock no. 20, A. E. Hitchcock no. 3.

 Hitchcock died of heart failure on 16 December 1935, at sea on board the steamer "City of Norfolk" while returning home with his wife from Europe, where he had attended the Sixth International Botanical Congress in Amsterdam, visited many European herbaria in preparation for a work on the grass genera of the world, and celebrated his 70th birthday. Hitchcock was held in high esteem by his peers and colleagues: "[H]e was a lovable and unassuming man. To the student of systematic botany who knew only his work, he was a tireless and productive student of a technically difficult and to many botanists quite uninteresting group of plants, the grasses. His contribution to our understanding of this economically most important family of plants has been unequalled in America" (Fernald, M. L. 1937. Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts Sci. 71(10): 505–506). Enriched by the hundreds of thousands of specimens acquired by Hitchcock and Chase throughout their collaborative careers, the Smithsonsian Institution's grass herbarium became the largest and one of the most complete such grass collections in the world. Hitchcock and Chase also bequeathed to the Smithsonian in 1928 their private agrostological library; among its 6,000 books and pamphlets were Linnaean titles, early systematic works, and rare books on the grasses.

Studio photograph of Hitchcock, ca.1923–1925.
HI Archives portrait no. 12.

Mary Agnes Chase

Born Mary Agnes Meara in Iroquois County, Illinois, on 20 April 1869 (the family's name changed to Merrill after 1871), Chase was educated in Chicago. Interested in botany from an early age (as was her colleague Hitchcock), she supported herself by proofreading for newspapers (including the School Herald, whose editor, William Ingraham Chase, she married in 1888; she was widowed less than a year later and never remarried) and collected plants in her free time. While collecting northern Illinois and Indiana flora in the mid-1890s, she became acquainted with bryologist Ellsworth Jerome Hill, who hired her to illustrate some of the species he was describing. This friendship and experience as an illustrator led to her association with Charles Frederick Millspaugh, of the Field Museum of Natural History (now the Chicago Natural History Museum). While working as a meat inspector in the Chicago stockyards, she moonlighted as a botanical illustrator, depicting species in Gramineae, Cyperaceae, and Compositae for Millspaugh's Plantae Yucatanae and Plantae Utowanae.

Studio photograph of Chase, ca.1887. Brands Studio, Chicago, Illinois. HI Archives portrait no. 9.

Studio portrait taken ca.1888. Photograph by the Smithsonian Institution. HI Archives portrait no. 10.
At Hill's suggestion, Chase took a civil-service exam to apply for a botanical-artist position at the U.S.D.A., and in 1903 accepted the position and moved to Washington, D.C. to begin working in the Division of Forage Plants. The Division was later transferred from the U.S.D.A. to the Smithsonian Institution, and while working in the grass herbarium she began a series of papers on the Paniceae, publishing the first in 1906. She met Hitchcock at the herbarium, and, with their shared interest in grasses, began collaborating with him, assisting him as illustrator and botanist over the 30-year period in which she worked first as a scientific assistant in systematic agrostology (1907), later as assistant botanist (1923) and then as associate botanist (1925). At Hitchcock's death in 1935, she succeeded him as senior botanist in charge of systematic agrostology and as custodian of the herbarium.

Chase explained her long-standing interest in grasses by noting grasses' prominence in the Bible: "Grass is what holds the earth together. Grass made it possible for the human race to abandon cave life and follow herds. Civilization was based on grass, everywhere in the world" (Schultz, E. 1949. 79-year-old Washingtonian is foremost authority on grass. St. Louis Star Times).

On muleback near Viçosa, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1925–1926. HI Archives portrait no. 17.

Chase collected grasses along the eastern and southern coasts and in the southwestern states of the U.S., and also in Europe, northern Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Brazil, including "two journeys across South America alone, during which she went by train, boat, donkey, and by foot, became the only woman to stand on top the highest mountain in South America, braved insects that bored into her toes, ran out of food and got hungry..." (Schultz, E. St. Louis Star Times). She spent 7 months in Brazil, and added 500 species to the herbarium as a result of her fieldwork there. Her 1897–1959 bound fieldbooks are at the Smithsonian.

Chase examining a specium at the Field Museum of Natural History (now the Chicago Natural History Museum), 1922. Original in L. O. Williams Collection, Chicago Natural History Museum. HI Archives portrait no. 3.

Because many of the plants she collected were new to science, information about them was eagerly incorporated by Hitchcock into his definitive works, especially Manual of the Grasses of the United States (which she revised in 1950), and her own 70 publications, which included monographs on various grass genera and First Book of Grasses (1922). Chase also completed the Index to Grass Species, which had been worked on over the years by Lamson-Scribner, E. D. Merrill, F. T. Hubbard, and C. D. Niles, and she published its three volumes (containing 80,000 entries) in 1962, at the age of 93, one year before her death (see full citations in the Works by Hitchcock and Chase section below). Her discoveries made the Smithsonian's grass herbarium a resource for taxonomic research on American grasses, and her research led to the development by agricultural scientists of more nutritious and disease-resistant food crops. Chase also made time—and made news—for her suffragette activities, and was even jailed in 1918 and 1919 for her speeches and protests.

Although she formally retired from the U.S.D.A. in 1939, she continued to work at the National Herbarium, without pay, for the rest of her life, during which time she visited Venezuela to assist its Department of Agriculture in developing a range-management program.

The certificate of merit for distinguished achievement in botanical science that the Botanical Society of America awarded her in 1956 was followed two years later by an honorary doctorate granted by the University of Illinois—her first and only degree, at the age of 89. The Smithsonian made her an honorary fellow, and the Linnean Society of London elected her as a fellow in 1961. She died in Bethesda, Maryland, of congestive heart failure, on 24 September 1963, at the age of 94.

Chase outside her home in Washington, D.C., in April 1954. Photograph by William Van Eseltine. HI Archives portrait no. 2.


Works by Hitchcock and Chase

Chase, M. A. 1922. First Book of Grasses: The Structure of Grasses Explained for Beginners. New York: Macmillan.
Later edition in the Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Chase, M. A. 1929. The North American Species of Paspalum. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [Contrib. U.S. Natl. Herb. 28 (1).]

Chase, M. A., and C. D. Niles, comps. 1962. Index to Grass Species. 3 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall.
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Hitchcock, A. S. 1905. North American Species of Agrostis. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [U.S.D.A. Bur. Pl. Industr. Bull. 68.]

Hitchcock, A. S. 1914. A Text-Book of Grasses with Special Reference to the Economic Species of the United States. New York: Macmillan.

Hitchcock, A. S. 1920. The Genera of Grasses of the United States: With Special Reference to the Economic Species. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture. [U.S.D.A. Bull. (1915–23) 772.]

Hitchcock, A. S. 1925. Methods of Descriptive Systematic Botany. New York: Wiley.
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Hitchcock, A. S. 1935. Manual of the Grasses of the United States. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [U.S.D.A. Misc. Publ. 200.]
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Hitchcock, A. S. 1936. Manual of the Grasses of the West Indies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [U.S.D.A. Misc. Publ. 243.]
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Hitchcock, A. S. 1950. Manual of the Grasses of the United States, 2nd ed. (Revised by A. Chase.) Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [U.S.D.A. Misc. Publ. 200.]
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Hitchcock, A. S., and A. Chase. 1910. The North American Species of Panicum. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [Contrib. U.S. Natl. Herb. 15.]

For additional information and further reading

Bonta, M. M. 1991. Women in the Field: America's Pioneering Women Naturalists. College Station: Texas A& Univ. Press. Pp. 132–143.
In Carnegie Public Library collection; search their Caroline on-line library catalog for more information.

Clark, L. G. and R. W. Pohl. 1996. Agnes Chase's First Book of Grasses: The Structure of Grasses Explained for Beginners, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Lamson-Scribner, F. 1897. American Grasses (Illustrated). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. [U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 7.]
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Millspaugh, C. F. 1903–1904. Plantae Yucatanae: Plants of the Insular, Coastal and Plain Regions of the Peninsula of Yucatan, Mexico. 2 vols. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History. [Field Mus. Nat. His. Publ. 69, 92.]
In Hunt Botanical Library collection.

Siegel, P. J. and K. T. Finley. 1985. Women in the Scientific Search: An American Bio-bibliography, 1724–1979. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. Pp. 99–101.
In Carnegie Mellon's Engineering and Science Library.

Stieber, M. T. 1979. Manuscripts produced and/or annotated by Agnes Chase pertinent to grass collections at the Smithsonian Institution. Huntia 3(2): 117–125.

Swallen, J. R. 1936. The Grasses of British Honduras and the Petén, Guatemala. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington. [Bot. Maya Area Misc. Pap. 9.]

Other resources
Individual and group portraits of Chase are available from the Hunt Institute portrait collection in Archives. Thumbnails of the individual and group portrait holdings are available as PDFs for research purposes. For publication-quality images, contact the Archivist to place an order.

Biographical citations for Chase are available from the Hunt Institute biographical collection in Archives as a PDF.

Individual and group portraits of Hitchcock are available from the Hunt Institute portrait collection in Archives. Thumbnails of the individual and group portrait holdings are available as PDFs for research purposes. For publication-quality images, contact the Archivist to place an order.

Biographical citations for Hitchcock are available from the Hunt Institute biographical collection in Archives as a PDF.

For information about the Hitchcock-Chase papers, see Part 3 (pp. 214–216) of the Guide to the Botanical Records and Papers in the Archives of the Hunt Institute.

As indicated above, books by and about Hitchcock and Chase are in our Library collection. To search the Library catalogue, visit our Databases [link] page.

For further information, see Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History: Department of Botany with links to the collections, which include Hitchcock's 1900–1920s field books and Chase's 1897–1959 field books, a searchable type specimens gopher and an index of historical collections with entries on Hitchcock and Chase, and links to the Institution's current research on grass.

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