Geneva Sayre - teacher, scholar, bryologist, bibliographer, and town historian - was born on June 12, 1911 in Guthrie, Iowa. She attended Grinnell College (1929-1933) where she studied botany with her teacher, Henry Conard. She earned her M.A. degree at the University of Wyoming in 1935 and her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in 1938.
Following a brief instructorship at the University of Colorado, Sayre moved east to Russell Sage College in 1940 and served on the faculty for thirty-two years until her early retirement in 1972 with the title Professor Emeritus. In 1972, Sayre became a Research Associate at the Farlow Library and Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany at Harvard University. At Harvard, she trained curatorial assistants in the refurbishment of cryptogamic collections and inventoried confusing 19th-century bryological collections. In 1981, the Farlow celebrated her 70th birthday by publishing a volume in her honor. Her friends established the Geneva Sayre Fund to support visiting scholars to study at the Farlow.
Sayre's primary scholarly work involved bryophytes, a group in which she became an expert on the moss genus Grimmia. Her early bryological work included monographic revisions to nomenclature and dates of difficult groups of mosses. In 1959, she privately published Dates of Publications Describing Musci, 1801-1821 to clarify names and starting dates of mosses. As a result of her work, Sayre pioneered bibliographical and historical bryology, a new field in the study, evaluation, and organization of the literature of bryology.
Because of physical ailments which prevented her from prolonged use of the microscope and her increased interest in bibliography and documentation, Sayre abandoned her studies of Grimmia in the 1950s. With help from the National Science Foundation, Sayre collected information relating to published sets (exsiccatae) of cryptogams, especially bryophytes and she gathered bibliographical and biographical information about bryological collectors, such as Sullivant, James, Austin, and Taylor. The results of her research, Cryptogamae Exsiccatae, was published from 1969-1975 as five series.
The list of Sayre's organizational affiliations and honors include: election into Phi Beta Kappa; membership in the American Bryological and Lichenological Society (she served as President from 1951-1953), the British Bryological Society, the International Association of Plant Taxonomy, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; she served as Chairman of the Relief Committee of the Sullivant Moss Society and as Chairman of the Commission for Displaced Botanists for the International Union of Biological Sciences. Sayre was awarded the Hedwig Medal from the International Association of Bryologists for her contribution in bryology; she was named outstanding Educator of America in 1971; she received a medal from the Leaflets of Acadian Biology for her work on Cryptogamae Exsiccatae.
Aside from her scientific involvements, Sayre was also interested in local history. She lived in a 18th-century house with her long-time companion, Ruth Z. Temple, in Chesterfield, Massachusetts. She served as President of the Historical Society, as Curator of the Edwards Memorial Museum, and as Chairman of the Chesterfield Historical Commission.
Sayre died in 1992, at the age of 81.
Pfister, Donald H. "Geneva Sayre (1911-1992)." The Bryologist 93(3). Fall 1993, 475-8.
Steere, William Campbell. "Geneva Sayre - Teacher, Scholar, Bryologist, Bibliographer and Historian." Occasional Papers of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany (6). June 1991, 1-3.
Temple, Ruth Z. "Geneva Sayre - Town Historian." Occasional Papers of the Farlow Herbarium of Cryptogamic Botany (6). June 1991, 5.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE:
The papers of Geneva Sayre, n.d., 1929-1994 comprise approximately fifteen linear feet and document Sayre's research in bryology. The collection contains primarily correspondence, notes, manuscripts, drafts, memorabilia, grants, notebooks, and collection lists. Because the original order was indiscernible, the papers were arranged into four series: Series I. Personal Papers, n.d., 1934-1994, Series II. General Correspondence, n.d., 1932-1991, Series III. Subject Files, n.d., 1929-1993, and Series IV. Research Notes, n.d. Whenever possible, file folder titles created by Sayre were maintained; titles with brackets () were created by the Archivist.
This collection was donated to the Farlow Reference Library at Harvard University by Geneva Sayre and Ruth Z. Temple.
Series I. Personal Papers, n.d., 1934-1994
Contains correspondence, notes, grants, newspaper clippings, and lists relating to Sayre' personal life, her professorship at Russell Sage College, her involvement with various committees, and her research grant applications.
Series II. General Correspondence, n.d., 1932-1991
Contains original incoming correspondence and copies of outgoing correspondence, autographs, and cards between Sayre and other botanists. The bulk of the materials fall within 1940-1980. This series was previously arranged by an archival intern who had organized the materials by correspondents' surname; this arrangement has been maintained. This series provides information relating to Sayre's research on various bryological projects and her trips abroad to France and England. She also received correspondence from other researchers who inquired about her work and/or requested her assistance in specimen identification. Principle correspondents include: Henry Conard, Marshall Crosby, William Louis Culberson, T.C. Frye, Patricia Geissler, A.J. Grout, and William C. Steere.
Series III. Subject Files, n.d., 1929-1993
Contains correspondence, notebooks, publications, notes, and lists relating to Sayre's bio-bibliographical interests and work, especially on Sullivant, James, and Taylor. This series also includes materials about her work on Grimmia, Index Muscorum, and information about her two major publications, Publications Describing Musci, 1801-1821 and Cryptogamae Exsiccatae. Materials relating to her involvement with professional organizations can also be located in this series.
Series IV. Research Notes, n.d.
Contains notes and lists on 5"x8" cards and sheets of papers relating to Sayre's research projects. Sayre used these cards and sheets of papers to take her notes on her research. They were arranged by Sayre into files in which she constantly updated, corrected, and referred to them. These research notes are the accumulation of her life-time research work.