William Gilson Farlow (1844-1919) was an eminent mycologist and phycologist and the first Professor of Cryptogamic Botany in North America. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1870, Farlow stayed in Cambridge as an assistant to Professor Asa Gray. In 1872, Farlow traveled to Europe to learn more about cryptogamic biology. He returned two years later and accepted an appointment as Assistant Professor of Botany at Harvard's Bussey Institution in Jamaica Plain. He was appointed Professor of Cryptogamic Botany in 1879. Additional biographical information for William Gilson Farlow may be found in the finding aid of the William Gilson Farlow papers.
Farlow bequeathed his library, herbarium, manuscripts, and notes to Harvard in 1919. His personal collection of books and journals, many of them rare and now unobtainable, form the nucleus of the Farlow Reference Library.
The Library opened at its present location at 20 Divinity Avenue in 1924 and has continued to grow. Further bequests include the library of Roland Thaxter (1858-1932), as well as manuscripts, correspondence, illustrations and field notes of several other Cryptogamic botanists including E.B. Bartram, E.A. Burt, W.H. Weston Jr., D.H. Linder, and I.M. Lamb. Finding aids are available for select archival collections.
The collection, worldwide in scope, includes works on the identification and classification of algae, fungi, mosses, and lichens.
Information on the diatom collection can also be accessed through the Farlow Diatom Collection Database.