Clements Papers Document the History of Ecology

Frederic and Edith Clements at their Alpine Laboratory near Pikes Peak, Colorado

Frederic Edward Clements, a leading botanist of the early twentieth century, was born 16 September 1874 in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of Ephraim George and Mary Angeline (Scoggin) Clements.  He received a B.S. degree from the University of Nebraska in 1894, followed by an M.A. two years later and a Ph.D. in 1898.  Dr. Clements served on the faculty of the University of Nebraska’s Department of Botany from the time he was appointed laboratory assistant in 1894 until he advanced to full professor by 1907.

In 1899 Dr. Clements married Edith Schwartz, the daughter of New York businessman George Schwartz and Emma Young Schwartz.  Edith and Frederic met at the University of Nebraska, where Edith was a teaching fellow in German, and Frederic was a botany professor. Under his influence,  Edith herself began studying botany, receiving a Ph.D. in 1906 and becoming the first woman granted a doctor’s degree from the University of Nebraska.  The couple then began a lifelong partnership traveling the country and collecting ecological research together.

In 1907 Frederic Clements transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he spent ten years as professor and head of the department of botany.  He also served as state botanist and director of the Botanical Survey of Minnesota.

After leaving the University of Minnesota, Frederic Clements performed research work with the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., which occupied the rest of his life.  In 1925 the Clementses established a winter home and experimental gardens in Santa Barbara, California.  In the winter months the Clementses supervised the work of the Coastal Laboratory at Santa Barbara.  During the summers they developed another ecological laboratory, Alpine Laboratory, at Pikes Peak, Colorado.  With funds from the Carnegie Institution, the Clementses directed research aimed at determining the origin of species in the plant world by means of the impact of the physical factors in their environment.  The laboratories were often staffed by ecology students, and they attracted scientists interested in studying problems with agriculture, forestry, and soil conservation.

The Clementses collecting data in the field

The Clementses’ many publications included “Adaptation and Origin in the Plant World: The Role of Environment in Evolution,” “Dynamics of Vegetation,” “Plant Succession,” and “Rocky Mountain Flowers.”  Edith served as illustrator for these publications, often translating them into several foreign languages as well.

The Clementses retired in 1941 and continued their research with private funds.  Frederic also served as a consultant to the National Highway Research Board in 1935, and from 1934 until his death was a collaborator of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service.  In 1940 his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, conferred upon him the honorary degree of L.L.D.  He died 26 July 1945 in Santa Barbara, California.  Edith continued finishing their research manuscripts and writing articles in La Jolla, California, until her death (ca. 1969 or 1970).  The Clementses had no children.

You can view an online finding aid for the collection and link to digitized material from the collection here.

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