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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biography / Administrative History
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Other Finding Aids
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Katherine Esau papers
    Dates: 1924-1997
    Collection number: MS-08
    Creator: Esau, Katherine, 1898-1997
    Collection Size: 30 linear ft. 360 online items
    Repository: Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (University of California, Santa Barbara). C. H. Muller Library
    Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9615
    Abstract: The Katherine Esau papers represent the entire body of plant anatomy research Esau conducted from 1924 when she began research on curly top virus in sugar beets for the Spreckels Sugar Company to 1991 when she published her last article. The collection includes correspondence, research notes, photographs, biographical material, objects, and printed matter.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English German Russian
    Selected digitized images from this collection.


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, UC Santa Barbara. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Cheadle Center 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 the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    Katherine Esau papers, MS-08, Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration. University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Acquisition Information

    Materials given to UCSB by Drs. Ray Evert and Jennifer Thorsch, Esau's executor and power of attorney. Part of the papers were donated to Davidson Library, while the bulk of the research papers and the plant anatomy slide collection and photographs are housed at the Cheadle Center.

    Processing Information

    Arrangement and description of this collection was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    Biography / Administrative History

    Katherine Esau (1898-1997), a world-renowned pioneer in plant anatomy was a prodigious researcher and author. Born of a Mennonite family in Ekaterinoslav, Russia (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine), she and her family fled Russia after the Revolution and moved to Berlin. She completed her undergraduate education in Germany in agriculture and worked there in several jobs. In 1922 the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Reedley, California.
    Esau's early interests in plant anatomy centered on how viruses act on plants and their effect on plant tissue and development. During her employment at the Spreckels Sugar Company in Salinas, California in 1924, she worked on the development of resistance to curly top virus in sugar beets. She was invited to continue her research on sugar beets through the graduate program at UC Berkeley and the field station at Davis, earning her PhD in 1932. After graduate school, she was hired at the agricultural college at Davis (now University of California) and became one of the first women on the faculty, staying there until 1963. While teaching, she continued her research on viruses and specifically phloem, the food conducting tissue in plants. Esau was a popular teacher and was known for her ability to speak and write clearly, synthesizing the 19th century anatomy literature in plant structure and development and integrating it with current research. In the 1950s, she collaborated with botanist Vernon Cheadle, who chaired the Botany Department, on further phloem research. When he came to UCSB to become Chancellor, she moved to Santa Barbara, establishing an electron microscope lab at UCSB, and teaching plant anatomy as Emeritus Professor before retiring in 1967. She continued her research well into her 90s, publishing 162 articles and five books.
    Over her 64-year career, Esau received many awards and degrees including the President's National Medal of Science in 1989. Her many classic textbooks are still used today in botany classes around the world. Esau was very generous both in her teaching and in giving back to academia. She established three endowments in plant anatomy and, with her family, contributed generously to several Mennonite educational institutions. A number of excellent biographies of Esau as well as her own autobiography and oral history provide insight into this fascinating woman.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Katherine Esau papers represent the entire body of plant anatomy research Esau conducted from 1924 when she began research on curly top virus in sugar beets for the Spreckels Sugar Company to 1991 when she published her last article. The course of her research has been described often by Esau herself and is summarized in her autobiography, included in the papers.
    Series I Correspondence: This first series of general correspondence includes letters of thanks from many people who found her teaching and writings helpful; requests for biographical information; and letters regarding her various publications. A small number are research-focused. Publishers' correspondence is located in Series II.
    Series II Research and Publications: The bulk of the papers are included in this series and consist of publication drafts and reviews; published articles by Esau and her colleagues, most notably Vernon Cheadle, James Cronshaw, Lynn Hoefert, Robert Gill, and Jennifer Thorsch; her extensive reprint collection; and 15 binders with notes taken on hundreds of publications in plant anatomy from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Esau's photograph collections form a large subseries and consist of negatives, prints, lantern slides and 35 mm slides, used to illustrate her many publications. These electron microscope images were derived from anatomical preparations she made of plant materials, many of which are also preserved at the Cheadle Center as fluid plant collections.
    Series III Academic Activities: This series consists of files about the various chairs and teaching positions that were either endowed by her or named after her.
    Series IV Professional Activities: This series describes Esau's lectures and contributed papers at symposia, as well as the many academic and scientific honors and awards she received for her research.
    Series V Miscellaneous Subjects: This series consists of several folders about colleagues and printed matter about language and communication, a special interest of Esau who was known for her clear writing and speaking.
    Series VI Personal Papers: These files include autobiographical materials by Esau, such as her handwritten autobiography, personal items, family history and correspondence, and family photos; and articles written about her by colleagues.


    The papers are organized into 6 series: I. Correspondence, II. Research and Publications, III. Academic Activities, IV. Professional Activities, V. Miscellaneous Subjects, and VI. Personal Papers.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Plant anatomy
    Growth (Plants)
    Virus diseases of plants
    Esau, Katherine, 1898-1997
    University of California, Davis
    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Other Finding Aids

    See Guide to the Katherine Esau Papers 1870-1990 [bulk 1935-1987], UArch FacP 23, UCSB Davidson Library Special Collections.

    Related Material

    See the Vernon I. Cheadle Papers, Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration, UCSB and the Katherine Esau Papers, Special Collections, Davidson Library, UCSB. The Esau materials in Davidson Library were part of the original bequest to UCSB and contain additional family and professional correspondence, research notes, Esau's publications, family photos, and her awards.
    Esau's microscope slide collection of thousands of plant anatomy preparations are located at the Cheadle Center. The photographs that are part of her papers were derived from these slides. An artifact collection of personal objects has been inventoried separately.