Works of Ecology Pioneer Roland M. Harper Donated by his Biographer and by a Famous Horticulturist

Roland Harper

Roland Harper

Elizabeth Findley Shores, whose 2008 biography of her kinsman Roland M. Harper, On Harper’s Trail, is available in Henderson Library and also now in paperback from the University of Georgia Press, has donated a large collection of Harper’s variegated works to Special Collections. It is appropriate that this material should be here on campus, since there are a number of links between Harper and Georgia Southern. Roland’s younger brother Otto was the first instructor of agriculture when this school opened in 1908 as the First District Agricultural and Mechanical School. R.J.H. DeLoach, who taught here in the 30’s, was Harper’s classmate at the University of Georgia (Class of 1897) and lifelong friend. Another classmate and lifelong friend was James Walter Hendricks, first principal here. Christy Trowell, Georgia Southern alumnus (1954), documented the trips of Roland and younger brother Francis to the Okefenokee Swamp, while English Professor and Museum Director Delmas E. Presley brought out, after his death, the book on the Okefenokee that Francis had intended to write. (Special Collections also has, as a part of Dr. Presley’s collection, an extensive assemblage [1912-1951] of Francis Harper’s notebooks and photographs of the Okefenokee and the Swampers who lived there.)

Roland Harper (1878-1966) was a native of Maine who spent almost his entire life in the Deep South. His 1905 Ph.D. in Botany from Columbia University was based on a phytogeographical study of the Altamaha Grit region of Georgia, which begins just south of Statesboro. He worked as both botanist and geographer for the Alabama, Florida and Georgia Geological Surveys and taught for years at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where his extensive papers reside.

Harper was far from a stay-at-home. He was always traveling and exploring new sites in the Southern coastal plains where rare wild plants were to be discovered. Some of those plants are named for him – such as Harper’s beauty, Harper’s heartleaf and Harper’s love-vine. He would be concerned that even some of these plants are now endangered, for he was strongly opposed to the spread of development, dams and highways which destroy the habitats of plants and animals.

This donation consists of 193 items ranging from substantial studies such as The Natural Resources of Georgia (1930) to many letters-to-the-editor. Harper was an indefatigable writer of such letters, especially in his curmudgeonly later years.  On the same day in January 1938, a letter in the Birmingham News deplored the efforts of Wisconsin farmers to slow the growth of Southern dairying, while a letter in the Birmingham Post deplored a recent decline in civilization (including the observation that “The Christmas fire-works nuisance was worse last month than ever before”). A full listing of the works in this collection is available on request.

Meanwhile, hearing of Ms. Shores’s donation, Dr. Richard W. Lighty – famous geneticist, plant explorer and breeder, founder of the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in Greenville, Delaware and of the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Garden Administration at the University of Delaware – decided to donate to us the  material he collected while researching his own biography of Harper, a project he never found time to complete.  Many of these papers were given to Dr. Lighty by the late Marie Mellinger, expert on Appalachian wildflowers and edible herbs, and a friend of Harper’s. As well as publications, notes and correspondence, this collection also includes some excellent photographs of Harper both in youth and age.

Marvin Goss

Head of Special Collections

Posted in Resources and Services


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