1928-1936 Campaign in the Western United States
In 1928, Susan Delano McKelvey embarked on the first of eight annual trips to study and collect from the flora of the southwestern United States. The initial trip lasted one month, beginning October 11 and ending mid-September. She hired Oscar Edward Hamilton to fulfill, in the words of McKelvey, the role of, “chauffer, bodyguard, assistant and mentee.” The two worked closely on all eight trips between 1928 and 1936, and were joined by amateur Alice Eastwood on their first trip. Though they did not collaborate regularly, McKelvey and Eastwood maintained a frequent correspondence, and botanized together when they were in the same vicinity. The Campaign took McKelvey to Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. Captivated by the flora of the southwest, her second trip took place just a few months after her first, and lasted twice as long. This time she was joined by a British-born amateur botanist, Violet Frederika Edlemann.
McKelvey’s interest in the flora of the Southwest would later become the benchmark for her scientific legacy. In 1929, she wrote to Eastwood, “I am a cactus enthusiast now—and an Agave one.” This botanical interest quickly turned to scientific expertise as McKelvey’s final five trips to the southwest were largely devoted to the study of Yucca spp. She was able to locate and describe a large percentage of the genus, as well as make thousands of herbarium collections for the Arboretum and other botanical intuitions across North America. Her intense focus on the genus allowed her to become one of the leading North American experts, particularly after the publication of her seminal work, the two-volume Yuccas of the southwestern United States. In the introduction to the text McKelvey mentions the vast territory covered, “The area where this study has been made extends, roughly speaking, from central Texas…west to the Pacific Ocean and from the Mexican border as far north as the southern portions of Nevada, Utah and western Colorado.”