A plant morphologist and member of the Botany Department at Massachusetts Agricultural College, Ray Ethan Torrey was among the college’s most charismatic faculty members during the early twentieth century. Born in Leverett, Mass., and educated in the local public schools, Torrey graduated from MAC with the class of 1912, earning his PhD at Harvard six years later. After serving on the faculty of Grove City College and Wesleyan, he returned to his alma mater in 1919, where he remained for more than 36 years. A specialist in plant morphology and author or two widely used textbooks and numerous articles, Torrey’s introductory course in botany was among the most popular in the college. He was best known, however, for taking a broader, philosophical approach to science that encouraged students to explore the connections between philosophy, science, religion, and the humanities. Torrey died of leukemia in Boston on Jan. 16, 1956.
Correspondence, chiefly with former students and colleagues at other institutions; lecture notes and outlines; 27 pen and ink drawings; published writings and drawings; biographical material; class and laboratory notes taken by students; family and educational records (1832-1956); photographs, and other papers.
Background on Ray Ethan Torrey
Ray Ethan Torrey (1887-1956), an author and Professor of Botany at Massachusetts State College, was born in North Leverett, Massachusetts, in 1887. After earning a BS from Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1912, Torrey taught for several years at Grove City College and Wesleyan College while earning his masters (1916) and doctorate (1918) in Botany from Harvard. In 1919 he returned to the Massachusetts Agricultural College and remained there for the rest of his career, rising to full professor in 1937.
On campus, Torrey was known as a dynamic speaker and excellent teacher. Year after year, he was selected by the senior class as the college’s best teacher and his famous Friday evening seminars, where Torrey employed philosophy, religion, literature, art, and music to stimulate thinking, inspired generations of students. Former students of Torrey’s became leading figures in botany, filling the faculty ranks at Brown, Harvard, Iowa State, John Hopkins, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Yale, Antioch and Bennington Colleges, and the Universities of California, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington. One former student, Oswald Tippo, became a Provost and first Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Torrey’s published writings included The Anatomy and Physiology of the Seed Plants (1922), General Botany with an Instructors Manual (1923) and A Set of Botanical Drawings for Laboratory Use (1923), Introductory Botany (Vol. 1, 1925; Vol. 2, 1926), Science and Its Function in Education (1933), The Evolution of Green Plants (1936), and several papers in the field of plant morphology and phylogeny.
In addition to his far-reaching activities as a teacher and writer, Dr. Torrey was an influential member of the Theosophical Society and contributed to the Theosophical Quarterly.
The papers of Ray Ethan Torrey document a distinguished career as a professor of botany and as an author. The contents of the collection range from correspondence to drafts of publications and scientific illustrations, however the the bulk of the collection consists of materials used in teaching, including his class lectures, lecture outlines, and notes by students. Torrey’s correspondence is only fragmentary, representing only a fraction of the large number of letters he wrote to former students and friends, but include letters with Otto Degener, M. L. Fernald, Burton N. Gates, B. L. Robinson, Bernice G. Schubert, and Robert Woodworth.
Torrey’s writings are well represented and complement the course materials. Included are published volumes of The Anatomy and Physiology of the Seed Plants (1922), General Botany (1923), Introductory Botany (Vol. 1, 1925; Vol. 2, 1926), Science and Its Function in Education (1923), and a typescript of his book Angiosperms, left uncompleted at his death.
The papers also contain twenty-seven pen-and-ink drawings by Torrey, probably executed to illustrate a book by his Harvard dissertation director, E. C. Jeffrey, and possibly reused in Torrey’s own books. There is a set of published laboratory drawings (1941) and three sketches by others of Torrey’s residences.
Acquired through contributions of former students and other associates between 1973 and 1983, with additional letters and photographs acquired from former student Don Smith from 1986 to 1987.
Processed by Guy A. McLain, Jr., 1983.
For materials related to this collection, see RG 1/207. Oral history interviews documenting the history of the University from the following individuals: Charles P. Alexander, Ellsworth Barnard, Mary Taylor Barnard, Maxwell Goldberg, Lawrence Jones, Fred McLaughlin, Margarita Hopkins Rand, Alvan S. Ryan, H. Leland Varley, Dennis Crowley, John Lederle, and George Marston.
Cite as: Ray Ethan Torrey Papers (FS 121). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
- Botany--Study and teaching
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Botany Department
- Torrey, Ray Ethan, 1887-
Types of material
- Pen and ink drawings