This page is under construction as we continue to research “Professor Nelson” and his connection to local botanical exploits. Check back soon for more information. Or if you know something about this collection, please contact us!
A recently acquired collection of papers belonging to longtime Salem educator James Carlton Nelson have yielded a few unexpected surprises. The papers consisting of a number of letters indicate that for some time in the 1910s, Nelson was interested in botany and maintained a robust correspondenc
e with scholars (professional and amateur) across the country. All while serving as principal of Salem High School.
The papers themselves are full of information about various species of plants, which Nelson was apparently actively collecting and sending to his correspondents for identification and preservation. They also offer an interesting look into scholarship in a pre-digital age.
James Carlton Nelson
Nelson was born in Boone County, Kentucky in 1867. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Hannover College in Hanover, Indiana, before becoming a high school teacher in Iowa. It was there that he met and married his wife Ann Van Horssen in 1904. The couple moved to Salem in about 1914, when Nelson became principal for Salem High School, a position he held for 15 years. After stepping down as principal, he continued to teach, served as the Social Studies Department chair and as the registrar until his death in 1944.
The collection itself consists of 23 letters and a pamphlet. You can see a listing of all the materials here. Perhaps the most distinguished correspondent was a very young James Francis MacBride. At the time of these letters MacBride was working at Gray’s Herbarium at Harvard. A selection of letters from MacBride have been digitized and are available for reading below.