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Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi Collection

Identifier: JDH

Scope and Contents

Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi (1897-1984) collected papers of her father Charles B. Davenport (1866-1944) and those of her first husband, Reginald Harris (1898-1937). She was a professional artist who signed her works “Jane Davenport”. She was an employee of the Biological Laboratory and the Station for Experimental Evolution, predecessors of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In her work she appears to have functioned as an administrative assistant, social director, and aide. Charles B. Davenport was director of the Biological Laboratory from 1898 to 1924 and director of the Station for Experimental Evolution from 1904 to 1934. Reginald Harris, the founder of the Symposium on Quantitative Biology, was director of the Biological Laboratory from 1924 until his death.

The Glenn Gift was processed and arranged ca. 1988 and given the title “Davenport/Harris Papers.” For purposes of control, I separated the 1988 arrangement into three record groups, based on the major figures. The finding aid for the previous arrangement, and a 1988 discussion of the collection by Carol A. Salomon, are filed with Record Group III, the Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi Papers, as series 5.

The oldest material in the Glenn Gift likely was collected by Charles B. Davenport; it dates from the first half of the nineteenth century and it consists of the family correspondence, school copy books, and diaries of his parents, both of whom came from wealthy families in Brooklyn. His mother’s diary mentions attending a May 1855 lecture by Charles Sumner that advocated abolition, a lecture that appealed for Italian independence, and an 1858 lecture by Rembrandt Peale. Davneport’s father’s brother, Rev. William E. Davenport, was one of the founders of the Italian Settlement Society of Brooklyn, and the collection contains an inventory of his library and correspondence from him.

Davenport’s papers mostly are personal, but they do have material related to the history of science in general and to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in particular. Both he and his wife, Gertrude Crotty Davenport, were large landowners on Long Island’s north shore and at least two properties owned by them has come into the possession of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He did historical research on many of the properties he owned, and likely his papers contain research on the cottage now known as Yellow House. Gertrude Crotty Davenport, who was trained as a scientist, came from a family of large land owners in Kansas, and she inherited property. The papers contain extensive correspondence from her agent in Kansas.

Reginald Harris’s narratives of his participation on the Cornell Entomological Expedition to South America of 1919 and 1920 and his research notebook made during expeditions to French Algeria in 1923 (see also his correspondence to his family during his travels) and Panama in 1924 and 1925 (the Second Marsh-Darien Expedition) are important parts of the Glenn Gift.

Notable in his correspondence is a letter from Charles B. Davenport to his daughter in France suggesting positions that he might find for Harris on the couple’s return to the United States. Other scientific correspondents include zoologist J. Chester Bradley, and geneticists W. E. Castle, G. W. Corner, T. H. Morgan, and H. M. Parshley. There are two years of his correspondence for the Life Extension Institute (1924-1925), an agency founded to counsel prospective marriage partners on their genetic suitability for marriage.

Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi’s papers form the chief part of the Glenn Gift. Included in her papers are her love letters to Harris and hers in reply as well as her correspondence with her family and her many female and male friends to include a thirty year correspondence with David Burpee, owner of a well-known hybrid plant business, and botanist Stanley A. Cain. A significant holding in her papers are letters she and her husband, Reginald Harris, received from artist Alexander “Sandy” Calder and his family. One letter from Calder to her husband includes a small brass sculpture of a hand that was created by him. The letters show much interaction between her family and his. They visited him in Connecticut and were visited by his family in Cold Spring Harbor. The papers also contain correspondence dating from 1938 from scientist James de Tomasi, whom she later married.

One folder contains correspondence from her sister, costume designer Millia Davenport.

In 1940 there was a strong push from Arthur W. Page to close down the Biological Laboratory. Those scientists who wrote to ask her to use her influence to challenge this, and who made suggestions, were Wilbur W. Swingle, Donald Barron, Robert Chambers, Herman T. Spieth, and Harold F. Blum. Robert Cushman Murphy wrote to her of his program after he was appointed to the board in place of Page.

Some of Jane Davenport de Tomasi’s artworks were deaccessioned by the institution after the Glenn Gift was acquired, but there are roughly 100 remaining artworks.

The Howe Gift consists of Reginald Harris’s undergraduate college essays, a research notebook, a canceled passport, personal and work related correspondence, and two typescripts of his “Eugenics in South America” published 1922. There is also material from Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi, but the collection as a whole is devoted to him.

The Howe Gift is particularly rich in material from the second Marsh-Darien Expedition which visited the Kuna and the Choco tribes of Panama. Material from the expedition consists of hair clippings from Indians, glass lantern slides, and a sheet of picture writing, related items, and two lectures, both titled “White Indians of the San Blas and Darien,” each with illustration captions (not the article he published with this title in Science, LXI). Lantern slides 1.6, 1.48, 1.50, and 1.51 were used as illustrations in Harris’s “The San Blas Indians” (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Jan.-Mar. 1926).

Reginald Harris’s correspondence in the Howe Gift, which is chiefly (though not exclusively) administrative, has not been broken out into sent and received, as most of Harris’s letters are carbon copies. Letters of 13 May 1929 and 4 November 1931 include curriculum vitas of Reginald Harris. Reprints sent to Reginald Harris have been interfiled with his correspondence, with the exception of a postcard to him from expedition member Harold Johnson complimenting Harris’s report on the Kuna, which is filed with postcards. Correspondents include scientists B. Ellsworth Call, Ross G. Harrison, I. L. Kandel, and Boshi Sen. Of particular note for the history of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are two receipts from the New York State Conservation Department for tree orders, one ca. 1930 for 1,000 white pines and one of February 1931 for 1,000 scotch pines and 1,000 white pines.

The two typescript narratives of the Cornell Entomological Expedition to South America in 1919-1920 in the papers mention Harris. It is not known who the author is, but it may have been a man named Russell Fippin, who requested that they be returned to him at Cornell.

Her unpublished narrative of the expedition (with a partial typescript copy made by James Howe) is included in the papers as is an exhibit catalog of a gallery showing of her art in 1949. A few pieces of correspondence to and from Charles B. Davenport, most of it related to Reginald Harris, are in the file as is biographical material on him. Two letters from Charles B. Davenport to Frances Davenport (his sister) from November 1927 are of interest. On 3 November he notes that at a meeting of the executive committee of the board of the Biological Laboratory the previous evening Harris “got his board to approve his plans for a research laboratory and for getting a contribution from John D. Rockefeller Jr.” In the letter of 6 November he speaks of a visit the “Calder boy” (the artist Alexander Calder) had made to his daughter Jane and of Gertrude’s success with the Laurel Hill Road farm.

James Howe consulted these papers in writing his A People Who Would Not Kneel: Panama, the United States, and the San Blas Kuna (1998), an anthropological work that notes the Harris’s role in the Kuna’s rejection of the authority of the Panamanian government in 1925.

Howe’s letter-of-gift explains in detail the context of the Panama expedition and the materials and provides an inventory, and so a copy of it has been filed with these papers. Given his particular knowledge his descriptions of the photographs, lantern slides, and negatives have been used for this inventory, with the item number of the lantern slides being keyed to the box and box-order that he indicates. Box 1 slides may have significance, as box 1 is made of wood and each slide-slot is numbered; the other boxes are pasteboard. Film negatives have been keyed to lantern slides by the archivist; some film negatives that were noted on Howe’s inventory, but not found have been marked as “missing” in case they reappear.

Howe made photocopies of materials he removed from the files before his donation and those photocopies are filed here, as well.


  • Creation: 1895 - 1988



12 Boxes

Language of Materials



The Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi Collection contains three series:

  1. Series I: Personal and Family Records, 1915-1988
  2. Series II: Correspondence, 1895-1953
  3. Series II: Artwork and Exhibitions, 1930-1967

The Correspondence Series is divided into three subseries based on the original arrangement of the items when they were received. They are divided into correspondence sorted chronologically, correspondence sorted by recipient, and correspondence sorted by topic.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were collected by Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi. They are her personal records and her collection of records of her father Charles B. Davenport and those of her husband, Reginald Harris. Most of the collections were the gift of Noel and Thomas Glenn. Before their accession, a portion of De Tomasi’s papers were taken from the whole by anthropologist James Howe. Howe gave this portion to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 1988.

Cultural context

Inventory prepared by Charles Egleston, December 2005. Finding aid edited and added to ArchivesSpace by Kate Pigliacelli, May 2024.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives Repository

Library & Archives
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
One Bungtown Rd
Cold Spring Harbor NY 11724 USA