Scope and Contents
This collection contains biographical material on Samuel Copeland Palmer, writings, correspondence, and Swarthmore College memorabilia. Of particular interest is the journal and scrapbook he kept of his voyage to Baffin Land in 1929 with Donald B. MacMillan.
Copyright and Rights Information
Copyright has not been assigned to Friends Historical Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.
Biographical / Historical
Samuel Copeland Palmer (1874-1961), was Professor of Botany at Swarthmore College, Pa., from 1909 to 1942 and a lifelong member of the Society of Friends. He was the son of Lewis and Hannah (Pancoast) Palmer of Concord, Delaware County, and his father was a Quaker minister and active in the Delaware County Historical Society. Samuel Palmer graduated from Swarthmore College in 1895 and taught at the Swarthmore Preparatory School for 12 years. In 1902 he married Margaret Bancroft Swayne, and they had three children.
Palmer received a Master’s and Ph.D. from Harvard, and in 1909 he joined the faculty of Swarthmore College. In the early 1920s, he and Arthur Hoyt Scott, a fraternity brother also in the Class of 1895 and an avid gardener, and others began to discuss the development of the Crum Valley as a public garden, and in 1925 Palmer submitted a plan to the Swarthmore College Board of Managers for the creation of an arboretum on campus. The following year, he took a sabbatical from his teaching to visit and survey gardens and arboretums of Europe and gather plant samples. While financing was not available at the time, in 1929 the arboretum became a reality with an endowment created as a memorial to Arthur Hoyt Scott. Palmer served on the Executive Committee to develop the Scott Arboretum.
In 1929, Samuel Palmer was invited to join Lieut. Commander Donald McMillan on an exploratory voyage to Baffin Land, a thousand miles north of Labrador on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Donald B. McMillan (1874-1970) was a friend of Samuel Palmer, having succeeded him as the coach of the athletic department of Swarthmore Preparative School in 1900. The small contingent traveled in McMillan’s schooner, the Bowdoin which had made a number of voyages to the explore the Arctic and Sub-Arctic regions. The expedition left harbor in Maine on June 22 and returned September 19. Samuel Palmer was assigned to study of birds and plant life. Due to atmospheric conditions, the ship was out of radio contact for days at a time. By August 15, 1929, that party had reached the summit of the Baffin Land ice cap. McMillan reported that the weather was the worst in all his summer travels, and the ship was trapped in ice for two weeks and threatened by icebergs on its return voyage.
In 1943 an island in Frobisher Bay was named Palmer by Commander McMillan to honor his friend.
A gifted athlete who lettered in track and football, Palmer remained an avid supporter of Swarthmore College his entire life. He was director of athletics at Swarthmore Preparative School 1895-1900 and served on the athletic committee of the College after he began teaching and as graduate manager of athletics until his retirement from teaching. Affectionately known as “Doc,” in 1939-1941 he served as Acting Director of Athletics while still heading the Botany Department. He also served on the NCAA and was one of the founders of the Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Conference.
A lifelong sketcher, Palmer began exhibiting his plant drawings in the 1930s. In retirement, he devoted himself to recording all the plants of Delaware County. When the plants were exhausted, he moved on to butterflies, moths, and mushrooms. Ever the ardent alumni, his drawings came to Swarthmore College partly as the 50th anniversary gift of his class and partly in dedication to the students of the College.
After his retirement from active teaching in 1942, the College named Palmer Hall, one of the buildings of the former Swarthmore Preparative School, in his honor. The nearby athletic field and what is now known as Crum Meadow were also named for him in recognition to his devotion and service to his alma mater.