WILLIAM RALPH MAXON

Photo of William Maxon

William was born February 27, 1877, in Oneida, New York. His father was an editor and owner of a newspaper, undoubtedly had an influence on his son's life. He graduated from high school in 1894 with honors in Latin and English. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1898, where he wrote a paper on the Hart's-tongue fern. He completed that year at the New York Botanical Garden as an assistant, where he studied ferns with L. M. Underwood. He became a temporary aide in cryptogamic botany at the U.S. National Museum in 1899, rising to become equivalent to chairman of botany until his retirement in 1946. He made nine major field trips visiting Jamaica (repeatedly), Cuba, and Central America until a heart attack in 1931 ended his field trips.

William built the United States fern collections from practically nothing to 150,000 specimens. He accepted many administrative responsibilities including editor of Journal of theWashington Academy of Sciences (1919-17), president of the American Fern Society (1919-33), and editor of its journal (1934-44). He was honored with a DSc degree from his alma mater, Syracuse University, in 1921. William also was a member of the Cosmos Club, Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, Washington Academy of Sciences, Botanical Society of Washington, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He was a founder of Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1900, vice president from 1919 to 1921, and president from 1922 to 1924.

William died on February 25, 1948, in Terra Ceia, Florida. He was eulogized by Weatherby as a man who "will stand in the first rank of the systematic pteridologists of his time. ... his achievement is ... a series of shafts of light thrown into dark places." One generic name honors him (Maxonia C. Chr.). Relatively few fern species were named for him (11) since he named his own collections, but 65 species of flowering plants honor him.