Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Henry Fairfield Osborn Papers, 1879-1885

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, January 1994

Summary Information
Title: Henry Fairfield Osborn papers
Creator: Osborn, Henry Fairfield, 1857-1935
Inclusive dates: 1879-1885
Extent: 14 letters and 2 photograph albums
The Henry Fairfield Osborn collection contains the papers of the noted biologist, paleontologist, and president of the American Museum of Natural History. This includes correspondence, both professional and personal, and two photograph albums from trips to Russia and Colorado.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1994. M-2981.5.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Henry Fairfield Osborn Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


Henry Fairfield Osborn graduated at Princeton in 1877 and pursued his interest in the biological sciences and paleontology through additional study at several New York City medical schools and with Thomas Henry Huxley in Britain. Returning to the United States, Osborn accepted a position at Princeton, teaching natural sciences from 1881 until 1891, when he moved to Columbia University to organize the Biology Department there, and in 1891, he also helped to organize the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. Osborn's close association with the American Museum continued for over 45 years, and included a long tenure as its President, 1908-1933. During these years the museum's collections expanded enormously and it became one of the preeminent research institutions for natural history in the world. Apart from his own research, Osborn is perhaps best remembered for the sponsorship of the five immensely successful Central Asiatic Expeditions during the 1920's and 30's led by Roy Chapman Andrews.

William Berryman Scott (1858-1947), a fellow Princetonian, was among the more important American vertebrate paleontologists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Osborn, Scott traveled to Europe after his graduation to continue his education, landing at Heidelberg, where he took specialized course work in embryology and paleontology, and also like Osborn, Scott returned to his alma mater to teach, working at Princeton for the remainder of his career.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Henry Fairfield Osborn papers represent a very small portion of an originally voluminous personal and professional correspondence. They contain five letters from William Berryman Scott to Osborn, 1879-1885, 9 letters from Osborn to his wife, Loulee, dated 1925 (one n.d.), and two extensive photograph albums assembled by Osborn during trips through Central Europe and Russia (1898) and Colorado (1899).

The Scott letters are scattered, but include two important letters written in Heidelberg, 1879 and 1880, when Scott was pursuing research on the embryology of the lamprey, Petromyzon and working toward his dissertation. At the time, Osborn was traveling in England, studying with Thomas Huxley. These letters provide an all too brief glimpse into the life of an American graduate student in Germany at the high point of the German academic tradition, and provide a fascinating insight into the early development of "professional" paleontology in the United States. The other three letters from Scott were written during the field seasons of 1882 and 1885, when he was working in the Great Plains states, excavating mid-Cenozoic mammalian fossils, including discoveries of some of the classic specimens of oreodonts, creodonts and fossil rhinoceroses.

The remaining letters in the collection were written by Osborn during a vacation at Trinchera Ranch, Fort Garland, Colo., in the summer of 1925. They are newsy, personal letters with little content of general interest.

Subject Terms

    • College students--Germany.
    • Lampreys.
    • Paleontologists.
    • Paleontology--Collectors and collecting.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • Russia.
    • Colorado.
    • Osborn, Henry Fairfield, 1857-1935.
    • Scott, William Berryman, 1858-1947.
    Genre Terms:
    • Photograph albums.
    • Photographs.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   : American Science and Medicine Collection  
    Henry Fairfield Osborn letters,  1879 February 8 - 1885 August 19 [series]
    Letters from William Berryman Scott,  1897-1885
    Letters from Fairfield to his wife Loulee,  1925
    Photograph Albums [series]
    Volume   1 (Graphics Division)  
    Volume   2 (Graphics Division)  
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The photograph albums are shelved in the Graphics Division.

    Partial Subject Index
    Balls (Parties)
    • 1879 February 8
    • 1925 August 8
    College students--Germany
    • 1879 February 8
    • 1880 January 4
    • 1925 August 5
    • 1879 February 8
    • 1879 February 8
    • 1880 January 4
    Mount Whitney (Calif.)
    • July 25
    • 1882 July 20
    • 1882 August 23
    • 1885 August 19
    Paleontology--Collectors and collecting
    • 1882 July 20
    • 1882 August 23
    • 1885 August 19
    Salt Lake City (Utah)--Description and travel
    • 1885 August 19
    Sierra Nevada Mountains (Calif.)
    • July 25
    • 1879 February 8