Skip to main content

Charles B. Davenport Collection

Identifier: CBD

Scope and Content

The Charles B. Davenport Collection is particulary rich in photographs, both family and scientific. Davenport began visiting the Cold Spring Harbor area in the 1890s, and its environs are the background of many of the photographs. There are nine photographs of Alexander Agassiz's Newport, Rhode Island laboratory, six of which are dated 1893 and three of which are undated, but which are likely of the same date. Of particular note in the collection are cabinet photographs, mostly of scientists, to include Asa Gray, F.L. Washburn, Mathias Duval, Sir Michael Foster, Winfield S. Nickerson, Seitaro Goto, Karl Pearson, Louis Agassiz, Elie Metchnikoff (Nobelist), Herbert Haviland Field, J. B. Lippincott, Fridjtof Nansen, Sir Edwin Ray Lankester, Shozaburo Watase, and Franz Keibel; some of these photographs are signed.

Among the scientists pictured in group photographs and casual photographs are Alexander Graham Bell, Alfred Francis Blakeslee, Reginald G. Harris, Clyde Fisher, Eugen Fischer, Irving Fisher, John Harvey Kellogg, George Howard Parker, Alfred G. Mayor, E. L. Mark, and Thomas Hunt Morgan. The group photograph of Davenport, Irving Fisher, Morgan, and Bell was taken on or around 10 April 1915, at the same time as a photograph of three of them that was used as the frontispiece to the issue of the Eugenical News of August 1929.

The oldest substantive materials in the collection are the school copybooks of Charles B. Davenport's parents. His mother describes a May 1855 lecture by Charles Sumner and an 1858 lecture by Rembrandt Peale. Among the other Davenport family materials are some relating to Rev. William E. Davenport, one of the founders of the Italian Settlement House in Brooklyn.

Charles B. Davenport's correspondence in this collection is not extensive, but it does contain material of note, to include Reginald G. Harris's application to study at Cold Spring Harbor in 1916. In 1884 Davenport corresponded with ornithologist Owen Durfee, and there are two very long letters from him, with bird lists. Davenport's Biological Laboratory carbon letter book dates from 1900 to 1901, and includes letters to Eugene G. Blackford, Franklin W. Hooper, and Blakeslee (p. 152), among others. Davenport collected postcards from scientists, most of which date from the late 1890s to 1905; those with substantive messages have been separated from the mass and placed with correspondence. Postcard correspondents include F.A. Bather, William Healey Dall, Wilhelm Roux, Yves Delage, Kakichi Mitsukuri, Friedrich Zschokke, Bashford Dean, Carl I. Cori, Sir S.F. Harmer, Charles Robert Richet (Nobelist), Tine Tammes, Charles Emerson Beecher, John Stanley Gardiner, Kamakichi Kishinouye, Paul Pelseneer, Richard Wolfgang Semon, Sir John Arthur Thomson, C. Wesenberg-Lund, Jacob Reighard, Samuel Garman, Goto, and Jon Alfred Hansen Mjoen.

Both Charles and Gertrude Davenport owned property around the Town of Oyster Bay, and some of this property is now owned by the Cold Spring Harbor laboratory. Included in the house and land records are records of property owned by Gertrude Davenport in Kansas, with voluminous correspondence from her agent, Noble I. Nesbitt.

Scientific memoramilia collected by Davenport includes the postcards, zoological drawings, and autographs. Among the artists are Mark, Parker, Field, Watase, Nickerson, Henry Baldwin Ward, William E. Ritter, Herbert Spencer Jennings, John H. Gerould, Mayor, A.S. Packard, and J.S. Kingsley. The autograph collection includes a letter which is signed twice by Alexander Von Humboldt. Most of the autographs are in an unbound book dating from 1909 to 1912; included are the signatures of Oscar Riddle, Erich Tschermak, De Vries, and Theophilus S. Painter.

There were with the papers a great number of old deeds, insurance and property indentures that seem to have no relationship to Davenport or to properties that he and his wife owned. These have been filed as part of memorabilia.

Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi was her parents executrix, and the materials and correspondence for this role have been integrated into the collection. The supporting material chiefly consists of obituaries of Charles B. Davenport.


  • Creation: 1809-1965


Language of Materials

Bulk of materials in English

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions apply, see Archivist for details. Access is given only by appointment, 8:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Use Restriction

Archival materials must remain in the archival reading area. Item duplication is to be done by archivists. Fees are applied to copies made. Digital photography is permitted by users. Due to the very fragile nature of some materials in this collection, some are available through photocopies; others must be used under the supervision of an archivist.


Charles Benedict Davenport was born on 1 June 1866 at Davenport Ridge, the family's summer home near Stamford, Connecticut. He was the eighth child of Amzi Benedict Davenport (1817-1894), who had trained as a school teacher and who had founded an academy. At the time of Charles's birth his father operated a successful real estate office in Brooklyn. Jane Joralemon Dimon Davenport (1826-1895), his mother, was the daughter of John Dimon, a carpenter and builder. She was her husband's second wife. During the winter the family lived in Brooklyn Heights. Davenport was home-schooled and worked at his father's office until 26 November 1879, when he enrolled in Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute at the age of thirteen.

He graduated with a B.S. in civil engineering in 1886. For nine months during 1886-1887 he worked as a surveyor for the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad in Michigan. He left the job in September 1887, and entered Harvard as a junior that same month.

He excelled at Harvard. In his first year he completed seven courses earning an A in each. Zoologist E. L. Mark was a major influence on Davenport. Davenport completed his undergraduate degree in 1889, and he worked that year at the biological station at Woods Hole, Masssachusetts. He continued at Harvard toward the Ph.D., winning the Thayer Scholarship in 1890 and 1891. He received his doctorate in 1892; his dissertation was on Bryozoa.

Davenport was an instructor at Harvard from 1891 until 1899, variously teaching introductory and intermediate zoology. He first taught Experimental Morphology in 1893, a course of his own design. He continued to develop this course at Harvard, often publishing work with his students as coauthors to include W.E. Castel, H.V. Neal, W.B. Cannon. H. Perkins, and C. Bullard. Davenport also taught in Harvard's Annex, and there he met Gertrude Crotty, the daughter of William and Millia Crotty of Burlington, Kansas. She had received her M.A. from the University of Kansas, and was an instructor at the annex. Both attended Alexander Agassiz's marine biological laboratory in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1893. They married in June 1894. The couple's daughter, Millia Crotty Davenport, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 30 March 1895.

The first part of Davenport's first book, Experimental Morphology, was published in 1897. Both it and his Statistical Methods with Special Reference to Biological Variation (1899) were of great importance in introducing to the sciences the quantitative methods advocated by Francis Galton and Karl Pearson.

Daughter Jane Joralemon Davenport was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 11 September 1897.

Davenport was appointed director of the summer school of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences Biological Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, in the spring of 1898. In 1899, after declining an invitation to become associated with the Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, he was appointed an assistant professor at the University of Chicago; two years later he was named an associate professor. During summers he continued to direct the Biological Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor.

Charles B. Davenport was one of the first scientists in the United States to write about the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's laws of inheritance. In November 1900 for the Biological Bulletin he wrote a review of the publications of Carl Correns and Hugo de Vries on Mendel, which was published in its June 1901 issue.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington was founded in 1902. Nearly simultaneous with its founding, Davenport began a campaign for it to invest funds to create a study center for genetics at Cold Spring Harbor. That year he and his wife traveled to Europe, and there met Galton and Pearson. In 1904 the Carnegie Institution established the Station for Experimental Evolution at Cold Spring Harbor, making him its director, and he resigned from the University of Chicago. W. R. T. Jones, John S. Billings, Franklin W. Hooper, and Hugo De Vries spoke at the opening of the station on 11 June 1904.

The Carnegie labroatory building opened on 1 January 1905. In 1906 the name of the Station for Experimental Evolution was changed to the Department of Experimental Evolution. Davenport was president of the American Society of Zoologists in 1907 and 1929. In 1910 he founded the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, and he appointed Harry H. Laughlin to direct it. Charles Benedict Davenport, Jr. was born on 8 January 1911; he died of polomyelitis on 5 September 1916.

During World War I Davenport was a major assigned to the office of the Surgeon General. In 1918 and 1919 he and Albert G. Love compiled anthropometric data on draft recruits. The Department of Experimental Evolution and the Eugenics Record Office were consolidated by the Carnegie Institution as the Department of Genetics in December 1920, with Davenport continuing as over all administrator of offices. He receved the gold medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences in 1923.

The Biological Laboratory separated from the Brooklyn Institute in 1924, becoming an independent entity, the Long Island Biological Association. Reginald G. Harris, Davenport's son-in-law, was appointed the director of L.I.B.A. Davenport traveled to Mexico in March 1932 and there met with anthropologist Hermann Beyer. Davenport retired as director of the Department of Genetics in 1934. After his retirement he remained active in the affairs of the laboratory and the community. He was the first director of the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, and in laboring to prepare an exhibit for that institution was stricken by the pneumonia that killed him. At his death he was the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Gertrude Crotty Davenport died in 1946. Both are buried in the Memorial Cemetery of St. John's Church.


6 cubic feet


The Charles B. Davenport Collection contains the papers of Davenport and those of his wife Gertrude Crotty Davenport. It consists of family, institutional, and scientific photographs, biographical material, memorabilia, correspondence, photocopies of his articles, and supporting material. It is divided into four record groups: Record Group I: Photographs; Record Group II: Biographical Material; Record Group III: Memorabilia; and Record Group IV: Supporting Material.

Arrangement Note

The collection is divided into four series:

  1. Series I: Photographs, 1884-1942
  2. Series II: Biographical Material, 1842-1948
  3. Series III: Memorabilia, 1809-1941
  4. Series IV: Supporting Material, 1944-2005

Items are arranged chronologically. Some oversized materials are housed together.


The photograph of Charles B. Davenport, Hugo de Vries and others on the steps of the Carnegie Laboratory was given by Elizabeth L. Watson. Except for this and a collection of photographs of Charles B. Davenport and his future wife at Alexander Agassiz's Laboratory in 1893, which was given to the library by Mrs. Dana B. Casteel in 1965, the collection was assembled by Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi. Before her death De Tomasi gave a photograph album belonging to her father dating from 1898 to the library. In 1998 Noelle and Thomas Glenn, who purchased her home after her death, donated to the library the papers and photographs she had stored there, to include the papers of her first husband, Reginald G. Harris, those of her parents, and her own papers. The Reginald G. Harris Collection represents those papers that related to Harris, and the Charles Davenport Collection is yet a further division of the papers into those materials that represent Davenport. The photocopies of Davenport's scientific publications and supporting material have been collected by the library.

Related Material

Internal Related Material: A collection of Davenport's periodical publications dating from 1898 to 1929 was bound contemporaneously; it is held in the library. Bibliographic citations to most of his publications are in the library's digital collections database. The Reginald G. Harris Collection and the Jane Davenport Harris de Tomasi Collection, with which most of the material in this collection was once housed, contain correspondence and memoranda by him, as do the library's Carnegie Institution of Washington correspondence files. The Davenport Reprint Collection contains many reprints that were sent to Davenport by other scientists, and some of thes are inscribed to him.

Related Material

External Related Material: The largest collection of Davenport's personal papers is in the American Philosophical Society Library. The Brooklyn Historical Society and the Stamford Historical Society have Davenport family papers. The reminiscences of his daughter Millia Davenport are in the Columbia University Oral History Research Office. There is much that relates to Davenport in the papers of the Eugenics Record Office (American Philosophical Society Library) and in the administrative records of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.


Charles B. Davenport Collection
Finding Aid Prepared by Charles Egleston.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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