Charles E. Bessey Papers

Summary Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections
Bessey, Charles E., (Charles Edwin), 1845-1915
Charles E. Bessey papers
Date [inclusive]
0.8 Cubic feet

Preferred Citation

Researchers wishing to cite this collection should include the following information: "Item title, Collection title, Collection Identifier, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan."

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Biographical Note

Charles E. Bessey was born May 21, 1845 in Milton, Ohio. He grew up on the family farm until his father’s death in 1863. He then taught carpentry and surveying. In 1869, he received a B.S. from Michigan Agricultural College and an honorary M.S. in 1872. In 1879 he received an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and in 1898 a LLD from Grinnell College. Bessey was an instructor of botany at the Iowa Agricultural College (now called Iowa State University) from 1870-1873. From 1874 to 1877 he was a professor of botany, zoology, and entomology. He became professor of botany in 1878 and held that position until 1884. While at ISU he established the first botanical laboratory for undergraduate study in the United States. In addition, he began an herbarium. In 1882, he became the Vice President of the College and that same year became acting President. In 1884, Bessey left ISU to become the first Dean of Agriculture at the University of Nebraska. He held that position until 1915. In addition he served as acting President from 1888 to 191 and 1909. From 1909 to 1915 he was the Dean of Deans. Bessey also became Scientist of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture.

He was married to Lucy Athearn on December 25, 1873 and they had three children. Edward and Carl Bessey became electricians. Ernst Bessey became a botanist and worked for the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C.

Bessey died on February 25, 1915 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Scope and Contents note

The papers of Charles E. Bessey are comprised of correspondence, publications and articles, and a workbook. The correspondence consists of letters written to Bessey, and letterpress books of letters Bessey wrote. The correspondence is largely professional in nature. The workbook contains notes and observations of experiments, inventory of a museum and herbarium, inventory of equipment in the botanical department, an outline, and a letter. In addition, there is a Systemic Botany notebook. The publications consist of an article about Bessey, a scientific article about germ plasm, and an 1885 realtors brief. The collection also contains articles written by Bessey on botany topics, other topics of interest to him, and reviews of books and articles.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections July 2003

Conrad Hall
888 Wilson Road, Room 101
East Lansing , MI, 48824

Revision Description

 revised related archival collections note August 2014

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Legal Status note

Copyright: Michigan State University. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials

See also Ernst A. Bessey papers, 1904-1952 (UA 17.5), at the University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

See also Bessey family papers, 1878-1968 (00116), at the University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

See also Charles E. Bessey papers, 1865-1915, at the University Archives & Special Collections at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska. Microfiche available at the Michigan State University Library.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Michigan State University. Class of 1869.


  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Publications

Personal Name(s)

  • Bailey, L. H., (Liberty Hyde), 1858-1954
  • Bessey, Charles E., (Charles Edwin), 1845-1915
  • Britten, A.
  • Knoblock, Irving W.
  • Sargent, Charles Sprague, 1841-1927
  • Vassey, George


  • Agriculture
  • Botanists
  • Botany

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Collection Inventory

Correspondence 1881-1909 

Box Folder

Letters 1869 - 1906, Undated 

1767H 1

Letterpress book 1893-1901 

1767H 2

Letterpress book 1901-1909 

1767H 3
Box Folder

Workbook 1875-1882 

1767H 4

List of College of Agriculture Students in Botany I and II 

1767H 5

Publications 1885, 1908, 1912, 1932, Undated 

1767H 6

Systemic Botany 13 and 14 1913 

1767H 7

Articles by Bessey 

Box Folder

Article. Honey Producing Plants 

1767H 8

Article. Some of the Next Steps in Botanical Science 

1767H 9

Article. The World's Greatest Botanists 

1767H 10

Reviews Undated 

1767H 11

Writings 1905 - 1906, 1914, Undated 

1767H 12

Article albums (duplicates) 1898-1912 

1768H 1-3