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Burgess Collection

Biography of Dr. Edward Sandford Burgess

Edward Sandford Burgess, the eldest child of Chalon and Emma Burgess, was born in Little Valley, New York on 19 January 1855. Two of his siblings, Theodore Chalon Burgess (1859-1925) and Sarah Julia Burgess(1870-1942), survived childhood, while three others died young. Edward married Irene S. Hamilton of Fredonia, New York in 1884.

Edward took an early interest in botany. By the age of sixteen, he had analyzed 280 plants near his home. By the age of nineteen, he had penned the Flora of Chautauqua County in which he presented the name and locality of every plant known to him (710) in that county. (JB, vol. 3, p. 28) This work was eventually published as the following: The Chautauqua flora: a catalogue of the plants of Chautauqua County, New York, native or naturalized; extending through the cryptogamous plants to the end of the Hepaticae (Clinton, New York, 1877). (JB, box 7, folder 49)

Edward left home for Fredonia State Normal School in the spring of 1874. Here he enrolled in a course of classics and graduated in June 1875. (JB, vol. 3, p. 31) In the fall of 1876, Edward was granted sophomore standing on his entrance into Hamilton College. While at Hamilton, he pursued a course in classics and received his A.B. in 1879. During the next fifteen years, he taught botany, Latin and other subjects at several schools on the east coast, including the Delaware Literary Institute in Franklin, New York (1879-80), Central High School in Washington, D.C. (1882-1895), Johns Hopkins University (1885) and Martha's Vineyard Summer Institute (1881-1895). (JB, vol. 3, pp. 34-9)

In 1895, Edward went to New York City to become the head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Hunter College. Eventually, he entered Columbia University where he received his Ph.D. in 1899. In addition, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from his alma mater, Hamilton College, in 1904. Edward continued in his post at Hunter College until 1925. During this period, he published many works on botany. Among them were the following: "The Work of the Torrey Botanical Club," Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 27 (1900): 552-8; "Plant Illustrations in the Middle Ages," Torreya 2 (1902): 60-1; "History of pre-Clusian botany in its relation to aster," Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club 10 (1902): 1-447; "Aster," in Flora of the Southeastern United States, J.K. Small (1903); "Species and variations of Biotian asters, with a discussion of variability in Aster," Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club 13 (1906): 1-419; and "A method of teaching economic botany," Memoirs of the Torrey Botanical Club 17 (1918): 52-5. (JB, vol. 3, pp. 50-4) As might be deduced from his list of publications, Edward was remembered most for his important work as a student of the genus Aster. In this group of extremely variable plants, he hoped to find the forces of evolution at work. Indeed, Edward discovered 84 species of Aster when only two to eleven had previously been known. (JB, box 7, folder 49)

Following his retirement in 1925, Edward passed the time working on various papers and addresses, genealogical research and preparing many of his collections to be distributed as gifts to certain institutions. Edward died at New York Hospital in New York City on 23 February 1928. (JB, vol. 3, p. 62; box 7, folder 49)

Aside from botany and the collection of Aster, it appears that Edward's greatest passion was the collection of two distinct groups of items: glass, ceramics and pottery (especially vases); and written material. In his dealings with art and book dealers in the United States and Europe, Edward accumulated a massive collection of oriental (Near and Far Eastern), Greek and western European vases and other glass and ceramics, as well as an extraordinary library of rare books and manuscripts. Many of the ceramics originated either during or before the Middle Ages, while many of the manuscripts and incunabula were medieval and Renaissance works. (JB, box 5, folders 14-16; box 7, folder 48) Following Edward's death, the books and manuscripts were eventually inherited by his sister, Julia, who partly donated and partly sold the collection to the University of Oregon.


Julia Burgess Papers. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. [Coll. 209, 9 boxes and 9 separate volumes]. (Referred to above as JB).

Last revision: 10/30/06 by N. Helmer
Created by Ian Rush for Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
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