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Samuel C. (Samuel Copeland) Palmer Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-114

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.


  • Creation: 1895-1957


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to reuse, publish, or reproduce items in this collection beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to copyright law must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns. See

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.


1.5 linear ft. (3 boxes)

Language of Materials



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. In 1929, he served as botanist in Bowdoin-Baffin Land expedition under the command of Donald B. MacMillan, and after his retirement from teaching, he worked on a project to illustrate all plant species in Delaware County, Pa. This collection contains biographical material, writings, correspondence, and Swarthmore College memorabilia. It is organized in four series: 1. Biographical, which includes a manuscript autobiography and a scrapbook and journal of his trip to Labrador and Baffin Land; 2. Writings; 3. Correspondence, 1894-1909; and 4. Miscellaneous, which includes personal scrapbooks with correspondence and Swarthmore College memorabilia such as photographs of Swarthmore College students of the 1890s, and fraternity and athletic programs.


The collection is divided into four series:

  1. Biographical
  2. Writings
  3. Correspondence
  4. Miscellaneous

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Samuel Copeland Palmer, Jr., 1961-1964. The donor was the son of Samuel C. Palmer and also an alumni of Swarthmore College (Class of 1927).

Donor: Mary Lou Kay, a descendant of Samuel C. Palmer. Acc. 2004.019

Related Materials

See also:

  1. Collection of Watercolor Drawings of Delaware County plants by Samuel Copeland Palmer deposited in Martin Laboratory, Swarthmore College, Pa. Available on-line.
  2. Samuel C. Palmer's college yearbook, The Halcyon 1895, which was added to College Archives, Publications.
  3. Palmer's proposal to create the Scott Arboretum, see Swarthmore College Archives, Presidential Papers, Frank Aydelotte, Scott Arboretum, 1925-1929.


  1. Fussell, Linnaeus. "List of Delaware County Plants," Proceedings of the Delaware County Institute of Science, 1, no. 3 (April 1906)

Processing Information

Originally processed by FHL staff prior to 1967. Four boxes of colored slides of flowers and accompanying index transferred to Swarthmore College Biology Department. Three flower paintings (blue?; hibiscus; rhododendron) originally sent as Christmas greetings to Mary Sullivan Patterson, Class of 1928, gift of Mary Patterson, 1975, also forwarded to Biology Dept. [4-17-75] and added to a collection of Palmer's paintings. In 2004, a small collection of personal letters from Samuel and Margaret Palmer to his parents and a box of lantern slides were donated by Mary Lou McKee, a descendant. The correspondence was added to Series 3: Correspondence. The lantern slides, collected 1927-1928 during Samuel Palmer’s sabbatical in which he visited gardens in Europe in the planning stage for the Scott Arboretum, are stored as PA with lantern slides. At the time that these items were added to RG5/114, a photograph album of primarily Swarthmore College classmates, 1890s, was transferred to a PA 10/13, Swarthmore College Picture Albums.

An Inventory of the Samuel C. Palmer, Papers, 1895-1957
FHL staff
ca. 1964
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Encoding made possible by a grant by the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation to the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries

Find It at the Library

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