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Bassett Maguire

Archives and Manuscript Collections

Records of the Herbarium (RG4)
ca. 65 linear feet


Bassett Maguire was born on August 4, 1904 in Alabama City (Gadsden) Alabama, the son of Charles Thomas and Rose Bassett Maguire. He went to high school in Savannah, Georgia and in the summers of 1921 to1923 was employed in the merchant marines as a sailor, able-bodied seaman and as quartermaster. In 1923 he enrolled in the University of Georgia and received a B.S. degree in three years, with first honors in botany and zoology. In 1925, with a generous gift from his Uncle Augustus Bassett, Bassett Maguire participated in the field program at the University of Pittsburgh in tropical ecology at Kartabo, British Guiana. Years later, in 1944, Maguire designated Augustus Falls for an unnamed cascade on Tafelberg, Surinam in honor of his uncle.

In 1927, Basssett Maguire was appointed head of the Science Department at the high school he attended in Georgia. Aware of the need for graduate study he obtained a teaching assistantship in Botany at Cornell University in 1927. By 1931 he had completed his course requirements but not his thesis when he was offered a position as Assistant Professor of Botany at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan,Utah. While in Utah he developed the Intermountain Herbarium and served as its principal collector and curator until 1942.

In January 1943, Bassett Maguire visited the New York Botanical Garden, where he was to work on the flora of Utah. By July he was listed as "curator" and subsequently served the New York Botanical Garden in many roles as Curator (1943-1958); Head Curator (1958-1961); Nathanial Lord Britton Distinquished Senior Curator (1961-1971); Assistant Director (1968-1969); Director of Botany (1969-1971, 1974-1975); Senior Scientist (1972-1974); and Senior Scientist Emeritus from 1975 until his death in 1991.

While at the Garden, his research began to shift from North America to tropical America. In 1944 he arranged an expedition to the Kaieteur escarpment to continue the Garden's work in the Guayana Highlands. Later that same year he proceeded with an exploration of Tafelberg in central Surinam. He prepared maps, wrote descriptions of Tafelberg and of his explorations, and with collaborators, published six papers on describing many plants new to science.

Dr. Maguire continued to lead expeditions to South America, particularly the Amazonas territory of Venezuela and what was then British Guiana. In 1948, accompanied by Louis Politi from the Garden's horticultural staff and his son Bassett Maguire, Jr., Dr Maguire led a major expedition to the summit of Cerro Sipapo via Rio Cuao and the upper Orinoco. Richard Cowan and John Wurdack, graduate students who later became staff members of the New York Botanical Garden, were recruited to go with Dr. Maguire on a trip to Venezuela in 1950 and accompanied him on many expeditions thereafter.

Dr. Maguire's first marriage ended in divorce and in 1951 he married Celia Kramer. Celia Maguire accompanied her husband and assisted on many trips. In 1953, the Maguires and John Wurdack were finishing up the exploration of the Amazonas, Venezuela but extended their trip to retrace the travels of the pioneer Amazonian explorer, Richard Spruce. Travelling up the Yatua to Laja Catipan, on clear day, they saw the expanse of Cerro Neblina (then unknown and unnamed). Upon their return to Caracas, the Maguires reported their findings to the United States Ambassador. The discovery of a new mountain mass was a crowning achievement in a career of exploration. Cerro Neblina's location on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border had international implications and a boundary commission was created to determine the division between the two countries.

Dr Maguire organized and participated in 3 subsequent trips to Neblina, one of the most botanically rich table mountains of Guayana. For his discovery, he was awarded the David Livingstone Centenary Medal by the American Geographical Society in 1965.

Throughout the 1960's, Dr. Maguire continued his explorations of South America collecting with Julian Steyermark on the sandstone escarpment and northern slopes of the upper Cuyuni, Estado Bolivar, Venezuela and later to British Guiana collecting in the southern Pakaraima Mts. Also in 1962, the Maguires collected in the upper Rio Cuyuni and rios Uiri and Chicanan, Venezuela. Between 1966 and 1969, the Maguires traveled to Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Colombia and Puerto Rico.

Back at the Garden, Dr. Maguire was largely responsible for securing many National Science Foundation Grants (NSF) facilities grants, to acquire new herbarium cases and renovate existing herbarium space. He was also involved in many professional scientific societies and organizations. He was the President and a founder of the Association of Tropical Biology (ATB), participated as a founder and councilor of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), and served as President of the Torrey Botanical Club. He developed fruitful collaborations with other botanical gardens and conducted herbarium studies in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the USSR.

In 1975 Bassett Maguire turned over his administrative duties at the Garden and officially retired, becoming Senior Scientist Emeritus. He continued his primary research on the floristics of the Guayana Highlands and monographic studies of Clusia and the Dipterocarpaceae, Pakaraimeae.

Dr. Maguire was a pioneer explorer and an inspiring teacher to a generation of botanists. He died on February 6, 1991 at the age of 86.


The Bassett Maguire collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts, organizational records, personal papers, and research records that include field notebooks, photographs, negatives, Kodachrome slides, movie film and video, artwork, micrographics, reprints, clippings, scrapbooks and artifacts. The collection covers Dr. Maguire's career as Curator of the Intermountain Herbarium in Logan Utah throughout his career at the New York Botanical Garden. Also included are correspondence and organizational records of his affiliations with organizations such as the Association of Tropical Biology and the Organization for Flora Neotropica.

The collection is currently being arranged and described by Dr. Maguire's wife Celia Maguire with the assistance of Stephen Sinon, NYBG Archivist.


Series 1: Intermountain Region. 1930-1943
Series 2: New York Botanical Garden. 1944-1991
Series 3: Correspondence - NYBG Scientific. 1944-1991.
Series 4: Field Work. 1944-1987
Series 5: Research. 1944-1990
Series 6: Affiliations.
Series 7: Publications.
Series 8: Artwork.
Series 9: Artifacts.
Series 10: Photographic materials.
Series 11: Personal. 1930 - 1991.

This guide is currently in progress.

For more information and a complete description contact:
Stephen Sinon, NYBG Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, New York 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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