among ourselves a class of scientific enthusiasts, worshippers of the mummy
who with unwearied patience and tireless limb hound high-road and byway,
bog and mountain peak, ever on the look-out for floral strangers,
whom they ruthlessly sacrifice to the glue-and-paper deity.” -- Gerald McCarthy
North Carolina State University Herbarium (NCSC)
has catalogued 6 specimens collected by Gerald McCarthy, while the University
of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU) has found about 145 of McCarthy’s specimens
in its collection. As both NCSC and
NCU continue to database their collections, no doubt more specimens collected
by McCarthy will be found.
Photograph courtesy of North Carolina State University Herbarium
According to the “history” section of the NCSC website, “Before the turn of the 19th century, two
institutional herbaria existed in Raleigh. The oldest was initiated by
the first State Botanist, Gerald
McCarthy (Ehrenfeld et al., 1998; Troyer, 1999), and housed at the Agricultural
Experiment Station. McCarthy (1888, Report of the Botanist. Ann. Rept. No. Car. Agric. Exp. Sta.
11: 131-144) described an herbarium of about 2,500 species. The fate of
this collection has not been properly documented and remains unclear.
So far, only a few specimens collected by McCarthy have been found at
NCSC.” As more than 100 specimens have
been found at NCU, it seems likely that the majority of McCarthy’s herbarium
is in Chapel Hill.
McCarthy’s locations are frequently written
in Latin and give few specific details:
“Habitat in Oriente
Carolina Septentrionalis, Locis
– paludosis” is common. He frequently Latinized his name to “Geraldus McCarthy” on labels.
Gerald McCarthy was deaf as a result of a
childhood illness. He attended the
National Deaf-Mute College (which later became Gallaudet University) while John White Chickering taught
there. They were co-authors on a paper
that appeared in the Botanical Gazette in 1886, one year before
James Troyer, Professor Emeritus of North
Carolina State University, has written an excellent, in-depth account of
Gerald McCarthy’s life and work, “Stopped ears, open mind: Gerald McCarthy (1858-1915): North Carolina botanist” (Journal of the
Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 115 (4):
201-212. 1999.) The following are excerpts from Troyer’s
Michael Gerald McCarthy … was born 1
December 1858 in Ottawa, Illinois. His
parents, John and Mary Fitzgerald McCarthy, were both immigrants from Ireland
in about 1850 because of the famine in that country. His father, a Mississippi River pilot, was
murdered in New Orleans at the outbreak of the Civil War. At the age of 15 he was totally deafened
and left severely weakened in eyesight and general physical condition by an
attack of cerebrospinal meningitis.
…he entered the Illinois Institution for
the Deaf and Dumb in 1878, graduating in 1880. He then worked for a time in St. Louis as a
laborer in Shaw’s Botanical Garden, forerunner of the Missouri Botanical
Garden. There he became interested in
botany as a life work. To further that
aim he enrolled in 1882 in the National Deaf-Mute College, later Gallaudet
College and now Gallaudet University.
He received the B.S. degree in 1887 and at the graduation ceremonies
delivered an oration entitled “The forces of vegetable life” (Columbia
Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, 1887, p. 11). After graduation he worked for a time in
the herbarium of the United States National Museum (Smithsonian Institution),
later presenting to that organization more than
4,000 plant specimens collected by him (U.S. National Museum, 1890, pp. 69,
72, 192, 764).
… He gathered specimens in Texas in 1881
and 1882 and while a student at Gallaudet made summer collecting trips to the
southeast, especially to North and South Carolina… When the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887
provided additional resources for the state agricultural station, director
H.B. Battle decided to add a botanist to his staff. McCarthy was named to the position in
October 1888, at first on a temporary basis and later by successive two-year
…McCarthy was at the peak of his
productivity in 1897. He was
simultaneously botanist and entomologist of the experiment station, secretary
and prime mover of the horticultural society, secretary and principal force
in the Southern Pines research project, entomologist to the pest commission,
and member of the national committee on seed testing. Then disaster struck: he was summarily dismissed from his
position as a result of political events.
A coalition or “fusion” of the
Populist and Republican Parties took control of the state by electing a
governor and a majority of the legislature in the election of 1896… An early action of the legislature in 1897
provided for a new board of trustees for… the experiment station… [and] on 23 August
notified McCarthy that he was dismissed as of 31 August.
This action of the board was the
result of experiment station, as well as party, politics. Massey [Wilbur F. Massey] believed that the
work of the two institutions, college and station, should be thoroughly
integrated under himself. He rather
lamely justified the sacking of McCarthy by claiming that “the only
difficulty was that his physical infirmity prevented his being a teacher”
(Massey, 1897), ignoring the fact that McCarthy had delivered numerous oral
presentations and had interacted well with hearing persons. McCarthy answered this charge with a long
and pointed rebuttal (McCarthy, 1897d).
…Unemployed and with his wife [Adeline Dixon
of Ulster, PA] pregnant with their first child [Gerald Raleigh MacCarthy], McCarthy left North Carolina in September
1887 to pursue study for the Ph.D. degree in botany, entomology, and
invertebrate zoology at Cornell University.
He moved in 1898 to the University of Chicago, where he became a
candidate for the M.S. degree in bacteriology. However, in September 1899 he failed the
examination for that degree. When
political power in North Carolina had again changed hands, McCarthy applied
for his old job with the station, but instead [in 1900] was given a position
with the state department of agriculture.
…As the volume of…work grew, McCarthy’s
health was simultaneously deteriorating as a result of the early meningitis
and [being struck & severely injured on 11 October 1892 by a Richmond and
Danville Railroad train, whose approach he did not sense because of his
deafness]. He underwent a surgical
operation in December 1907, but a few months later in March 1908 because of
his condition he was forced against his will to retire.
… McCarthy moved with his family to
Skowhegan, Maine… He was an invalid for the remainder of his life and died on
8 September 1915, the cause of death being recorded as exhaustion and heat
References in the above
excerpts from Troyer:
Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. 1887. 13th Ann. Rept. Washington, DC.
U.S. National Museum. 1890. Report for
the year ending June 30, 1888.
Washington, DC. 876 p.
Massey, W.F. 1897. Prof. Massey
writes. News and Observer, June
McCarthy, G. 1897d. M’Carthy
answers. News and Observer, June
Gerald McCarthy’s sons went on to
successful careers. Gerald Raleigh MacCarthy (1897-1974) was born in Ithaca, New York, spent
a few of his childhood years in Raleigh, North Carolina, but spent most of
his youth in Skowhegan, Maine. He
attended Colby College from 1915-1917, and served in the trenches of France
during World War I. He finished his
undergraduate education at Cornell University with an A.B. in geology in
1921. He began his long association
with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by earning his M.A. in
1922. He was the Geology Department’s
first doctoral graduate in 1926. He
taught in the UNC-CH Geology Department from 1926-1965. He and Elizabeth Enloe
were married in 1922 and had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. (White, W.A., R.L. Ingram, and W. H. Wheeler. 1977.
Memorial to Gerald Raleigh MacCarthy,
1897-1974. Memorials – Geological
Society of America 6.)
Donnell D. MacCarthy was an electrical engineer who worked for General
Electric then lived in Canandaigua, New York.
by GERALD MCCARTHY:
McCarthy, Gerald (1892) The sophisticated French wines. Science 19 (478): 185.
McCarthy, Gerald (1892) American Weeds. Science 20(493): 38
Nessler, J. and Gerald McCarthy (1890) Copper-soda and copper-gypsum as
remedies for grape mildew. J. of
Mycology 6(2): 73-74.
Bunzli, J.H. and Gerald McCarthy (1890) Combating the potato blight. J. of Mycology 6(2): 78-79.
McCarthy, Gerald (1889) Botany
as a disciplinary study. J. of the
Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 6(1):
McCarthy, Gerald (1887) The
study of local floras. J. of the
Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 4(2):
Wood, Thomas F. & Gerald McCarthy. 1886. Wilmington
Flora: A list of plants growing about Wilmington, N. C. with date of
flowering, with a map of New Hanover County. Journal of the Elisha
Mitchell Scientific Society 3: -141 & folded map.
Smith, John Donnell, Isaac C. Martindale, J.
W. Chickering, Jr., Chas. E. Bessey,
A. W. Chapman, R. I. Cratty, J. D. Davis, Chas. F.
Johnson, C. E. Smith, and Gerald McCarthy (1886) Specimens
and specimen making. Botanical Gazette 11 (6): 129-134.
ABOUT Gerald McCarthy:
Ehrenfeld, E.M., M.M. Whitemire,
K.E. Evans, and M.M. Reagan.
1998. Gerald McCarthy,
Botanist. Road House Press, Round
Pond, Maine. 78p.
Troyer, James. 1999.
ears, open mind: Gerald McCarthy
(1858-1915): North Carolina botanist. Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific
Society 115 (4): 201-212.