Guide to the Katherine Esau Papers

Laurie Hannah and Sarah Vitone
Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration
University of California, Santa Barbara
Harder South 9615
Santa Barbara, California 93106-9615
Phone: (805) 893-2401
Fax: (805) 893-4222
© 2008
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Guide to the Katherine Esau Papers

Collection number: MS-08

Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration

University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California
Processed by:
Laurie Hannah and Sarah Vitone
Date Completed:
Encoded by:
Laurie Hannah
© 2008 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

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.

Collection Contents





Box 1, Folder 1

Correspondence 1937-1987

Box 1, Folder 2

Correspondence 1988-1992



Box 1, Folder 3

Requests for Permission to Reproduce Material 1989-1992

Box 1, Folder 4

Dedication of Books 1977-1984

Box 1, Folder 5

World Center for Women's Archives, etc. 1940-1945

Scope and Content Note

Also includes U.S. Office of War information and letter and Esau's response in Russian.
Box 1, Folder 6

Biographical Directory Entries 1952-1987

Box 1, Folder 7

McGraw-Hill Book Company 1965-1978

Box 1, Folder 8

Eschrich, Walter 1965-1978

Box 1, Folder 9

O'Hern, Elizabeth 1987-1992

Box 1, Folder 10

Gressley, Gene M. 1972-1983


Research and Publications



Box 1, Folder 11

Anatomy of Seed Plants - Page Proofs Ch. 3-8

Box 1, Folder 12

Anatomy of Seed Plants - Page Proofs Ch. 9-18

Box 1, Folder 13

Anatomy of Seed Plants - Page Proofs Ch. 19-Glossary

Box 1, Folder 14

Anatomy of Seed Plants - Publicity Materials

Box 1, Folder 15

Anatomy of Seed Plants - Reviews 1960-1977

Box 1, Folder 16

Plant Anatomy - Reviews 1965-1972

Box 1, Folder 17

"The Phloem" in Handbook of Plant Anatomy - Reviews 1970-1975

Box 1, Folder 18

Vascular Differentiation in Plants - Review 1970-1975

Box 1, Folder 19

Viruses in Plant Hosts - Reviews 1969-1971

Box 1, Folder 20

Correspondence About Esau's Publications 1969-1971

Box 1, Folder 21

Publisher's Correspondence 1950-1991

Box 1, Folder 22

Records of Graduate Students at UC Davis 1965-1991


Articles 1930-1991

Scope and Content Note

Complete set of articles written by Esau.

Plant Anatomy Reprint Collection

Scope and Content Note

16.5 linear feet of articles by scientists other than Esau on all aspects of plant anatomy. Esau also maintained over 40 boxes of index cards referencing these publications.


Scope and Content Note

13 binders contain notes taken from others' publications, research data, and some correspondence. Subjects include early work on viruses, research for the USDA Guayule Research Project, phloem studies, and general plant anatomy.


Scope and Content Note

35 boxes of photographs from Esau's research in several different formats: 4 x 5 negatives of plant anatomical images, most of which are derived from microscope slides of plant dissections, glass plate negatives and lantern slides of various sizes, and black and white prints of varying sizes, most of which were used in publications.

Academic Activities

Box 1, Folder 23

Katherine Esau Professorship, University of Wisconsin 1987-1988

Box 1, Folder 24

Esau Chair, UCSB, Correspondence 1988-1994

Box 1, Folder 25

Katherine Esau Electron Microscopy Facility, UCSB 1990-1991

Box 1, Folder 26

Esau Endowed Chair, UC Davis 1987-1990

Box 1, Folder 27

Esau Chair in Plant Sciences, Bethel College 1988-1998


Professional Activities


Invited Lectures and Symposia

Box 1, Folder 28

Faculty Research Lecture, UC Davis 1945-1946

Box 1, Folder 29

Prather Lectures, Harvard University 1959-1960

Box 1, Folder 30

Botany Symposia, UC Davis 1984-1992

Scope and Content Note

Includes UC Davis 75th Anniversary and Katherine Esau International Symposium.
Cassette 1

Communication Channels Between Cells and Their Origin in Higher Plants Pt. 1 May 14, 1984

Cassette 2

Communication Channels Between Cells and Their Origin in Higher Plants Pt. 2

Photo_box 1

Communication Channels Between Cells and Their Origin in Higher Plants

Box 1, Folder 31

Invitational Lectures and Misc. Meetings 1956-1978

Scope and Content Note

See also Scrapbooks for various years.

Professional Memberships

Box 1, Folder 32

Botanical Society of America 1931-1974

Box 1, Folder 33

National Academy of Sciences 1957-1985


Honors and Awards

Box 1, Folder 34

Guggenheim Fellowship 1940-1948

Box 1, Folder 35

Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Mills College 1962

Box 1, Folder 36

Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree, UC Davis 1965

Box 1, Folder 37

Honorary Membership - American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Swedish Academy of Sciences 1949-1980

Box 1, Folder 38

Phi Beta Kappa/AAAS Membership 1932-1967

Box 1, Folder 39

Sigma Xi Society 1949-1986

Box 1, Folder 40

National Medal of Science 1989-1992

Box 1, Folder 41

Katherine Esau Award, Botanical Society of America 1989-1992


Miscellaneous Subjects

Box 1, Folder 42

Barbara McClintock - Clippings

Box 1, Folder 43

The Kaskas

Scope and Content Note

Jennifer Thorsch and family.
Box 1, Folder 44

Misc. Clippings and Cartoons on Language

Scope and Content Note

Includes Correspondence.
Box 1, Folder 45

National Academy of Sciences - Printed Material

Box 1, Folder 46

Vernon Cheadle


Personal Papers



Box 2, Folder 1

Esau, Esther - Correspondence 1986-1987

Box 2, Folder 2

Esau, Paul - Correspondence 1980-1985

Box 2, Folder 3

Long, Dora - Correspondence 1987-1988

Box 2, Folder 4

Financial Papers 1956-1992

Box 2, Folder 5

Estate of J.J. Esau 1940-1941

Box 2, Folder 6

Estate of Margarethe Esau 1955-1957

Box 2, Folder 7

Johan J. Esau - Autobiographical Materials 1955-1957

Box 2, Folder 8

Rempel, David G. - Correspondence Regarding Johan Esau 1984

Box 2, Folder 9

Mennonite Colonies in Russia - Photocopy in German 1923

Box 2, Folder 10

"Recollections of My Public Life in Russia, 1884-1918" by Johan Esau - Photocopy 1923

Scope and Content Note

Includes commentary and notes by David Rempel.
Box 2, Folder 11

Maps of Mennonite Colonies in South Russia

Box 2, Folder 12

Menno Simons College, University of Winnipeg 1987-1989

Scope and Content Note

Includes correspondence with George K. Epp and obituary of Paul Esau.

Autobiographical Material

Box 2, Folder 13

Curriculum Vitae 1991-1997

Box 2, Folder 14

Esau's Autobiography - Handwritten 1987-1989

Box 2, Folder 15

Katherine Esau's Autobiography - Typed with Corrections and Notes 1987

Box 2, Folder 16

Katherine Esau - A Life - Oral History by David Russell and Esau's Autobiography. Draft with Corrections. 1991

Box 2, Folder 17

Journal 1918-1939


Scrapbooks and Photo Albums c. 1920-1977

Physical Description: 16 albums

Scope and Content Note

Personal photos (approx. 1 linear foot) include loose negatives and scrapbooks of Esau's family members, her family homes in Europe and California, travels around California and the rest of the United States, work on sugar beets in Oxnard and at Spreckels, and views of the campuses at Davis and UC Berkeley. Esau also created scrapbooks of ephemera from trips she took around the United States and to Europe.

Artifacts--Inventoried separately

Scope and Content Note

Personal items such as hats, embroidery, fountain pens, and lab equipment.

Biographical Material

Box 2, Folder 18

Articles about Esau 1931-1992

Box 2, Folder 19

Dr. Katherine Esau - Press Release by Kitty Bruno 1972

Box 2, Folder 20

K. Esau: Anatomy of a Botanist, by Laura L. Hartman 1977

Box 2, Folder 21

Profiles of Pioneer Women Scientists: Katherine Esau, by Elizabeth M. O'Hern 1996

Box 2, Folder 22

Corrections and Notes for O'Hern's Article c. 1989

Box 2, Folder 23

Katherine Esau at U.C. Davis, by Celeste Turner Wright 1991

Box 2, Folder 24

Miscellaneous Biographical Materials 1988-1997