Emma Cole

Emma Cole

Browse Cole Collection

Herbarium collections of Emma Cole and the Grand Rapids Public Museum at the University of Michigan Herbarium

Emma Cole (1845-1910) was a pioneering woman who studied botany at Cornell University and returned to Grand Rapids in 1881 to teach there at Central High School. Over her career, she made several thousand plant collections that formed the nucleus of an herbarium, or a museum of dried and mounted plant specimens. The majority of her collections were from the area around Grand Rapids (mostly in Kent County), and they formed the basis of her seminal book, “Grand Rapids Flora: A Catalogue of the Flowering Plants and Ferns Growing Without Cultivation in the Vicinity of Grand Rapids, Michigan,” which was published in 1901. However, she also traveled widely both inside the U.S. and abroad, making plant collections is places as diverse as Colorado and Washington, as well as in Mexico, Cuba, Scotland, France, and Switzerland.

These collections and ones made by other citizens of the Grand Rapids area were originally housed in the Kent Scientific Institute, which was the precursor of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and was housed at Central High School. In the 1930s they were transferred to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, where they remained until 1974. At that point, the University of Michigan Herbarium agreed to receive the collections on permanent loan and to give them proper care and circulation for ongoing studies of the Michigan flora.

We are pleased that as part of the NSF-CSBR project, we were able to database and digitize all of the collections from the Kent Scientific Museum that the U-M Herbarium received on permanent loan. We know of some additional Emma Cole collections that are housed at the Burke Museum of the University of Washington in Seattle (she apparently made a small set of collections in Seattle in July of 1905), at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University (where she spent time in 1904 at the Arnold Arboretum studying hawthorn or Crataegus), at New York Botanical Garden, and the University of Minnesota Herbarium. As part of our digitization efforts at MICH, we have so far recorded 4,326 sheets from the Kent Scientific Museum (now Grand Rapids Public Museum). Of these, about 2,600 were collected by Ms. Cole herself.