The Arnold Arboretum and the Legacy of Slavery

The following was written with contributions by Jon Hetman, Lisa Pearson, and William (Ned) Friedman on behalf of the Arnold Arboretum community, and originally published on the arboretum's website. It has been republished here with permission from the Arnold Arboretum. In spring of 2022, Harvard University President Larry Bacow shared the findings of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, a major initiative focused on researching and day-lighting connections between Harvard and its community to both the institution and economy of slavery. Among the Committee’s findings associated with the Arnold Arboretum is a major benefactor who made his fortune trading goods produced by enslaved people, the institution’s historical connections to the Atkins Institution in Cuba, and the close ties of some instructors at the Bussey Institution to the eugenics movement. At the Arnold Arboretum, we welcome this opportunity to better understand our past as important historical context in our efforts to make our landscape more welcoming and enriching to everyone.


Eye Candy at the Arnold Arboretum

“Rarely if ever before have the Arboretum Laurels (Kalmia latifolia) been as full of flower-buds as they are now, and by the time this bulletin reaches its Massachusetts readers many of the plants will be covered with flowers. The flowering of the Laurels is the last of the great Arboretum flower shows of the year, and none of those which precede it are more beautiful, for the Mountain Laurel, or the Calico Bush as it is often called, is in the judgment of many flower-lovers the most beautiful of all North American shrubs or small trees.”

So wrote Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum, in June of 1916. 107 years later, I am watching the best mountain laurel bloom in my thirteen springs here. I found a couple of very old postcards that depict the mountain laurels at the peak of their collective bloom, a seemingly endless stretch of whites, pinks, and even reds at the base of Hemlock Hill. The upper image is from circa 1915, showing the Olmsted designed carriage road with its graceful curve ever revealing something just on the horizon.