Charles Sprague Sargent

Historical Biographies

Charles Sprague Sargent

Charles Sprague Sargent inspecting Arnold Arboretum grounds, 1904. Photograph by J.H. McFarland.

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841 -1927)

Sargent, the Arboretum’s first director served the institution for over 54 years. Charles was the child of Henrietta Gray and Ignatius Sargent, a successful Boston merchant, banker, and railroad financier. After graduating Harvard College and serving in the Union Army, he toured Europe then returned to manage Holm Lea, the family estate and gardens in Brookline, Massachusetts.

In 1872 he was appointed Director of the Harvard Botanic Garden, becoming in effect an apprentice to Asa Gray. This position included the administration of the Bussey Institution as Professor of Horticulture, thus becoming Francis Parkman’s successor. On November 24, 1873, Sargent received his ultimate charge as the Director of the Arnold Arboretum. Sargent held all three positions concurrently for several years; he was Director of the Garden until 1879, and a Professor at the Bussey until 1879.

When Sargent assumed the directorship of the Arnold Arboretum only the land on which the institution would take form existed. Without a building on site Sargent used Dwight House, located on his estate.

Although Sargent also had offices at the Bussey Institution adjacent to the Arboretum, and at the Gray Herbarium, in Cambridge, Dwight House headquartered Sargent’s library and herbarium and first administrative offices of the Arnold Arboretum until 1892 when the Hunnewell Building was constructed on the Arboretum’s grounds. Sargent’s library and herbarium, along with some of his correspondence files moved from his estate to the museum, as the building was called, late in 1892.

Garden and Forest; A Journal of Horticulture, Landscape Art and Forestry, conducted by Charles Sprague Sargent, 1888-97.

Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927) papers, 1868- [pdf].

Sargent’s published writings in Arnoldia.

Sargent’s published writings in Arboretum Publications.

Sutton, S.B. Charles Sprague Sargent and the Arnold Arboretum. Harvard University Press, 1970.

Rehder, Alfred. “Charles Sprague Sargent.” Journal of the Arnold Arboretum. 17(2), April 1927 [pdf].

The One-hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Sprague Sargent, published in Arnoldia (1941) [pdf].