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George H. M. Lawrence Papers, 1850-1982

Biographical note

George Hill Mathewson Lawrence, a native of Rhode Island, was for many years one of the preeminent botanists in the world. Born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island on June 19, 1910, he was the son of Dana and Anna (Mathewson) Lawrence. He attended local schools, graduating from Lockwood High School in Warwick in 1928. Remaining in his native state, Lawrence received both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from the then Rhode Island State College in 1932 and 1933 respectively. He also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from his Alma Mater in 1952.

In 1934, he married Miriam Boothby of Westbrook, Maine. After serving as Superintendent of Greenhouses and Grounds at Rhode Island State Hospital from 1934 to 1936, Lawrence left Rhode Island to study for his doctorate at Cornell University. There, as a student of the renowned botanist/ horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey, he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in botany in 1939. After receiving the doctorate, Lawrence remained as Bailey's assistant in the Bailey Hortorium until World War II military service interrupted his career in 1943. After the war, in 1946, Lawrence returned to Cornell and the Bailey Hortorium as a Professor of Botany. In 1951, he was named Director of the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium and in that same year, he published his seminal botany textbook, Taxonomy of Vascular Plants. In 1954, he assumed the editorship of the Bailey Hortorium journal, Baileya.

After nearly twenty-one years as a student and staff member at the Bailey Hortorium, Lawrence left in 1960 to assume the position of director of the newly established Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Botanical Library at the then Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). With the collection of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt (of the American Aluminum Company (Alcoa) Hunts) as a cornerstone, Lawrence developed the Hunt Botanical Library into one of the finest of its kind in the world. One of his major accomplishments was the acquisition for the Library of a 4000 item collection of Linnaeus materials from the private library of Dr. Birger Strandell of Sweden, a direct descendant of Linnaeus. In the ten years after its acquisition, the Linnaeana collection doubled in size.

Due in part to ill health, Lawrence stepped down as Director of the Hunt Botanical Library at the end of 1970 and returned to his native Rhode Island. He remained on the staff of the Hunt Botanical as a Research Associate and Consultant, however, in order to complete an annotated catalogue of its Linnaeus collection. Working with the donor of the collection, Dr. Birger Strandell, Lawrence devoted the remaining seven and one half years of his life to the completion of the Linnaeus Catalogue. Due to many problems, including several with its computer generated format, the Catalogue was never completed.

In addition to his lifelong interest in botany, Lawrence was also a student of local history and an avid bibliophile and collector of rare books. He combined his vocation and his avocations in accumulating a fine library of botanical works, general rare books, and books of Rhode Island history in his East Greenwich home. Many of these books, in particular those on Rhode Island history, were donated to the University of Rhode Island Library by his widow, Miriam Lawrence. This donation broadened both the Library's Rhode Island Collection and its rare book collection. George Lawrence died in East Greenwich on June 10, 1978.