Blanchard Family Papers, circa 1835-circa 2000
Using These Materials
- The collection is open to research.
- Blanchard family.
- The Blanchard family papers document the lives and careers of several members of the Blanchard, Cobb, and Proctor families from the mid-nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. Includes visual materials, publications, personal writings, and extensive correspondence files.
49.5 linear feet (in 50 boxes)
1400 glass photographic plates (in 10 boxes)
- Call Number:
- 8868 Aa 2; UAm
- Finding aid created by Michigan Historical Collections staff
- Scope and Content:
The Blanchard Family Papers document the professional achievements and personal lives of several generations of a scientifically minded and artistically gifted family. The papers focus heavily upon the eminent plant pathologist and nematologist Nathan A. Cobb, his wife Alice Vara Cobb, their daughter, biologist Frieda Cobb Blanchard, and her husband, herpetologist Frank Nelson Blanchard (the latter two of whom were professors at the University of Michigan). In addition to the photographs, drawings, correspondence, journals, and writings of these four individuals, the collection is rich in family correspondence, diaries, and personal papers from other members of the Cobb and Blanchard families (and their forebears and branches, including the Bigelow, Proctor, Ross, White, and Randall families). The Blanchard Family Papers will be of value to researchers interested in a variety of topics: scientific endeavors and methodologies (and in particular those related to agronomy, nematology, botany, and herpetology); the visual arts and the development of photography in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; colonial and provincial life in Australia and Hawaii (respectively); and the daily affairs of American (and Michigan) families throughout the twentieth century. The Blanchard Family Papers consist of seven series: Nathan A. Cobb, Alice Vara Cobb, Frieda Cobb Blanchard, Frank Nelson Blanchard, Blanchard and Cobb Family Letters, Other Family Members, and Isaac G. Blanchard.
- Biographical / Historical:
Nathan Augustus Cobb was born in Spencer, Massachusetts on June 30, 1859 to William H. and Jane (Bigelow) Cobb. His father, a Civil War veteran, worked variously as a carpenter, millwright, factory foreman, and farmer before he struck out for California in 1874, never to be seen again by his wife and only son. Despite the responsibility of supporting his mother as a farm laborer, Cobb graduated from Spencer High School and even maintained perfect attendance for numerous terms. In 1876 he moved onto the property of local businessman Charles N. Prouty and worked as a stable hand. Keenly interested in the natural world around him, Cobb saved his wages and purchased a microscope with which he gave informal lessons to the Prouty children. Encouraged by his employer, Cobb sat for the local schoolteachers' exam and was appointed headmaster of the Wire Village School before being promoted to the head of the No. 3 Grammar School in Spencer. During this time, he developed friendships with Fred Proctor and Joseph H. Greenwood, the latter of who introduced Cobb to drawing and painting and eventually gained renown as a New England landscape artist.
As a result of his close bond with Fred Procter, Cobb lodged with the Proctor family at the outset of his teaching career. Edward Proctor, the pater familias, had settled in Franklin, Michigan (near Detroit) during the 1830s but returned to his native Massachusetts following the death of his first wife and a child in 1841. While residing in the household, Cobb became close with Alice Vara Proctor (born in Spencer on April 22, 1854), a fellow teacher, enthusiastic botanist, and skilled sketch artist. The two spent much time together studying plants and sketching their findings and were engaged in 1877.
In 1878 Cobb enrolled in the Worcester Free Technical Institute (later renamed the Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and focused his studies on chemistry and mathematics. His thesis, "Notes on Miller's Crystallography" (1881), examined William Hallowes Miller's theorems in terms of analytical geometry and provided him with skills in mathematics, drafting, and optics that would be invaluable to his later work.
Upon graduating in 1881, Cobb married Alice and began teaching at the Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts. In addition to chemistry, Cobb taught zoology, physiology, botany, and geology and also developed courses in architectural design, mechanical drawing, and topography. During their residence in Easthampton, the Cobbs had four children: Russell (b. July 10, 1882, d. March 26, 1884), Margaret (b. May 16, 1884, d. November, 1963), Victor (b. October 11, 1885, d. April 24, 1946), and Roger (b. July 28, 1887, d. January 13, 1901) and made in depth studies of the local flora and fauna.
Despite his great skills in the physical sciences, Cobb's interests gradually turned to the life sciences and in 1887 he was accepted into the University of Jena in Germany to study under the eminent biologist, naturalist, artist, and philosopher Ernst Haeckel. In addition to practical considerations of lithography, photomicrography, and general zoological methods, Cobb's studies dealt intimately with helminthology and parasitology. Published in 1888, his thesis (Beitrage zur anatomie und Onogenie der Nematoden) examined parasitic and free-living nematodes--subject matter with which he would be associated for the rest of his life.
In 1888 Cobb and his family made a brief tour of Germany before repairing to Naples where (at the recommendation of the pioneering marine biologist Sir John Murray) he held a seat at the oceanographic research table of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In early 1889 the family departed for Australia where they arrived on March 7, 1889. Despite recommendations from Haeckel to the Government Botanist of Victoria, scientific work was not immediately forthcoming for Cobb and he was forced to produce advertisements for Waterbury watches and other articles for the American importer Chipman. He did, however, join the Linnaean Society of New South Wales in 1889 and later that year received a temporary appointment at the University of Sydney.
When the government of New South Wales (NSW) formed a Department of Agriculture in 1890, Cobb was appointed as the colony's first vegetable pathologist. In this position he was instrumental in helping Australian farmers find solutions to a variety of pests and diseases and implement more efficient agricultural methods. He also helped develop modern laboratories for the Department of Agriculture, established a definitive reference collection, and promoted effective research methodologies. Given his natural curiosity, Cobb examined a great many issues as a plant pathologist; he is most remembered, however, for his work with sheep flukes, sugar cane (especially the bacterial affliction known as 'gumming'), diseases affecting fruit crops, the eradication of wheat rust, and investigation of alternative wheat growing practices. Much of his work--far more varied than what is possible to review here--was collected in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales. Cobb also had responsibility for the Wagga Wagga Experimental Farm and Farm School, was associated with the Hawkesbury Agricultural College, and worked closely with the agronomist William Farrer. Cobb is remembered in Australia as a foundational figure in the development and modernization of the country's agriculture and has been referred to as "the Father of Scientific Agricultural Research in Australia."
In 1899 Cobb was named a Special Commissioner to the United States and Europe (a half-time appointment) by the Government of New South Wales and embarked on a two and a half year world tour to promote Australian agriculture and exports and to research modern agricultural practices. By this time, the Cobb family had grown through the arrival of Frieda (b. October 2, 1889, d. August 29, 1977), Ruth (b. April 25, 1891, d. June 18, 1983), and Dorothy (b. October 28, 1892, d. 1977?). While in America, the family remained with relatives in Massachusetts during Cobb's travels. A major result of these sojourns was an extensive report on grain elevators and the mechanization of agriculture in California. The Cobbs' travels included stops in Europe (France, Germany, Denmark, and elsewhere) as well as Algeria before returning to the United States and setting sail for Australia in late 1900 aboard the S.S. Sierra out of San Francisco. Tragedy struck the family upon its return to Australia; Roger was struck ill with cholera and died shortly after the ship docked in January, 1901.
Upon his return to Australia, Cobb learned that Farrer had replaced him as the government's wheat experimentalist. Although he briefly entertained a 1902 offer from James Wilson, Head of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), to become the Chief of the Bureau of Tropical Agriculture in Manila, Cobb elected to stay on with the NSW Department of Agriculture. As their children approached university age, however, the Cobbs determined to move back to the United States and so Nathan spent a good portion of 1902-1904 corresponding with contacts and took leave in 1904 to visit his homeland.
Cobb's efforts bore fruit when, in 1905, he completed negotiations to become the Director of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association's (HSPA) Division of Plants and Pathology. In the laboratory he personally designed at the HSPA Experiment Station, Cobb conducted considerable research into fungal and parasitic diseases (including nematode infestation) in sugarcane and other tropical fruits. He accepted this opening with a fixed term as he had made arrangements with the USDA for a position that would be "more congenial" to his overall interests to be held until his work in Hawaii was completed.
In 1907, Nathan became an Agricultural Technologist with the USDA's Bureau of Plant Industry and the family moved east, eventually settling in Falls Church, Virginia. In the initial phase of his employment, much of Cobb's work dealt with the standardization of cotton grades and measurement of cotton staple. Although he was transferred to different research in 1915, he was awarded the following year a medal by the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers for his development of a patented method and apparatus to determine the length of cotton fibers. In his newly refocused role, Cobb investigated the economic impact of nematodes on agriculture and became a powerful advocate for the establishment of nematology as a distinct field of scientific inquiry and the formation of a separate division within the USDA devoted to this study. Indeed, his writings from 1912 onwards made a definitive case for the separation of nematology from helminthology and also established the standards for laboratory methodologies and techniques that would guide future generations of nematologists. By 1918 the USDA recognized his laboratory as the Bureau of Plant Industry's Division of Nematology and Cobb had become the government's chief nematologist.
Although his active intellect found many outlets, much of the remainder of Cobb's life would be devoted to the study of nematodes (or 'nema' as he referred to them). He is widely regarded as the 'Father of Nematology' and the Society of Nematologists has named a foundation in his honor. In addition to his work within the government, Cobb produced a series of works known as "Contributions to a Science of Nematology", which, with their richly illustrated plates, form a basic reference in the field and is still consulted at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
In his later years, Cobb became an avid birdwatcher and served as an officer of various scientific organizations, including the American Microscopical Society, the Helminthological Society of Washington, the American Society of Parasitology, and the Washington Academy of Science. Beyond his accomplishments as a plant pathologist and zoologist, Cobb held numerous patents related to cameras, microscopes, and other practical implements. Nathan A. Cobb died suddenly of a heart attack on June 4, 1932 while in Johns Hopkins Hospital for his annual medical evaluation. Margaret Vara Cobb helped complete his "Key to the Genera of Free-Living Nematodes" (published in 1935) and Frieda Cobb Blanchard wrote an extensive biography of her father that first appeared in the Asa Gray Bulletin in 1957 and has since proven an invaluable resource for subsequent biographers. Alice Vara Cobb survived her husband and lived until 1951. Her recollections of her early life with Nathan (collected by her daughter, Frieda Cobb Blanchard and title "As I remember it...") were invaluable in tracing their lives' paths.
Frieda Cobb Blanchard was born in New South Wales, Australia in 1889 and she developed an aptitude for drawing and an interest in the scientific world at an early age. Having assisted her father in his home laboratories in Australia, she began to work with him at the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association Experiment Station after the family moved to Honolulu in 1905. She later completed high school in Washington, D.C. and attended Radcliffe College for three years before returning to Falls Church, Virginia to assist her father in his home laboratory. She eventually completed her B.S. in general science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1916. After studying nematodes with her father at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Frieda moved to Ann Arbor at the express request of Dr. Harley H. Bartlett (a Harvard classmate of her brother, Victor). In addition to pursuing graduate studies at the University of Michigan and working as Bartlett's graduate assistant, she was appointed Assistant Director of the University of Michigan's Botanical Gardens. She earned her Ph.D. in genetics in 1920 (studying Mendelian inheritance in evening primroses) and continued to work at the Botanical Gardens, serving as the active administrator during Bartlett's frequent research trips. In 1922, Frieda married herpetologist and Michigan professor Frank N. Blanchard with whom she had three children (Frank Nelson, Grace, and Dorothy) and collaborated professionally (achieving the first demonstration of Mendelian inheritance in reptiles). After Frank's unexpected death in 1937, Frieda raised the children on her own and continued her research and teaching activities as well as her work at the Botanical Gardens. Frieda Cobb Blanchard lived in Ann Arbor for the rest of her life and died in 1977.
Frank Nelson Blanchard was born in 1888 in Stoneham, Massachusetts and in 1913 graduated from Tufts University with a B.S. in biology. He taught zoology for three years (1913-1916) at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst before pursuing his Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Michigan. In Ann Arbor, Frank studied under noted professor Alexander G. Ruthven; he wrote his dissertation on king snakes and received his doctorate in 1919. After working as an aide from 1918-1920 in the Smithsonian Institution's Division of Reptiles, he became a professor at the University of Michigan in 1920 and married Frieda Cobb in 1922. He performed extensive field research at the University of Michigan's Biological Station and across the U.S., often with Frieda, his students, and various collaborators such as Howard K. Gloyd. Although Blanchard was recognized as a leading authority on North American snakes, he devoted considerable research to salamanders and the life histories of both these species. Respected by his colleagues, Frank N. Blanchard was especially well-liked by his students; his unexpected passing in 1937 after a brief illness was much lamented at the University of Michigan and the herpetological world in general.
Isaac Gray Blanchard, the paternal grandfather of Frank N. Blanchard, was born in Charlotte, Maine on October 29, 1819 and was the oldest of David and Saviah (Bennett) Blanchard's ten children. The family lived in a relatively unsettled part of Maine (18 miles from the town of Eastport) and David made his living as a farmer and tradesman. Isaac read extensively to supplement the somewhat limited education provided by the local school and by his teens he regularly submitted poetry and prose pieces to area newspapers (most notably the Eastport Sentinel). He continued to write poetry for the rest of his life (as well as fiction and, in his later years, an unfinished autobiography) and was a frequent contributor to newspaper editorial pages through his final years. As a young man, Blanchard had a three-year apprenticeship in the printing business at the Sentinel and in addition to working his father's farm and teaching in district schools, he served as the Town Clerk. During this time he also studied Pitman's phonography and taught this system of shorthand writing in lectures and correspondence courses. In 1849, he removed to Boston, worked as a typesetter for several publishers, and soon thereafter became an associate editor of a literary and scientific journal. By this time, Blanchard had married Margaret E. Johnson, with whom he had five children (including Charles Frederick Blanchard, the father of Frank N.), the eldest of whom was born in 1850. That same year he partnered with C. C. Tyler of Eastport to purchase the East Boston Ledger; he would run the paper for 12 years before poor health and scant profits forced him to sell out. Blanchard then graduated from Dio Lewis's Normal Institute for Physical Education in 1863 and was a "New Gymnastics" instructor before becoming the editor-in-chief of the Boston Daily Voice. Although he had long harbored progressive ideas, Blanchard's service with this cooperative newspaper precipitated his increased involvement in the nascent labor movement in the United States. He attended the second session of the National Labor Union in 1868, wrote extensively on labor issues and the inequalities of the capitalist system, contributed editorials to newspapers such as American Workman and The People's Paper, and in 1870 self-published a collection of labor songs under the title "Rhymes for the Times." After the Daily Voice failed, Blanchard tried (and failed) in a number of endeavors (one venture was destroyed in the great Boston fire of 1872) before moving to Clay County, Florida in 1877. In spite of the somewhat strained relations endemic to the post-Reconstruction South, Blanchard took an active role in his community: he raised a variety of crops (and helped charter a Farmers' Club in 1884); donated land for a public school and assembly hall in 1879; and taught a variety of subjects once the school was opened. Although he had been an early convert to Christianity and had lectured publicly on Millerism in his youth, Blanchard rejected formal religion in his young adulthood and instead grew increasingly interested in spiritualism. He wrote a series of articles in 1855 in the Eastport Sentinel on the manifest reality of spirits, was close with a number of mediums, and attended numerous séances in both New England and Florida. Isaac Blanchard died on February 5, 1885 in Highlands, Florida. (Information in this biography was gleaned from George Bancroft Griffith's The Poets of Maine (1888)).
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection was donated by the children of Frank N. Blanchard (Ph.D.) and Frieda Cobb Blanchard (Ph.D.): Miss Dorothy Blanchard, Dexter, Michigan; Grace Blanchard Iverson (Ph.D.), Hobe Sound, Fla.; and Frank Nelson Blanchard (Ph.D.), Gainesville, Fla. (donor no. 6724 ) in several accessions beginning in 1982.
Some additions to the papers are expected.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
Labor movement -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
Spiritualism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
Technological innovations -- United States.
Women -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
Women -- History -- Australia.
Women -- History -- Michigan.
Sugar cane -- Hawaii.
Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association. Experiment Station.
New South Wales. Dept. of Agriculture.
United States. Bureau of Plant Industry.
University of Michigan. Biological Station.
University of Michigan. Dept. of Zoology.
University of Michigan -- Faculty.
Blanchard, Florence A.
Blanchard, Frank Nelson, 1888-1937.
Blanchard, Frieda Cobb.
Blanchard, Isaac G.
Cobb, Alice Vara.
Cobb, Nathan Augustus, 1859-1932.
Ann Arbor (Mich.) -- Social life and customs.
Australia -- History -- 1788-1900.
Hawaii -- History -- 1900-1959.
Massachusetts -- History.
Using These Materials
The collection is open to research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
[item], folder, box, Blanchard Family Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan