Correspondence of Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton
Edited by P. M. Eckel
Res Botanica
Missouri Botanical Garden
May 10, 2006
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Correspondence of

Rhoda Waterbury and G. W. Clinton

1865 - 1867


Edited by P. M. P.O. Box 299, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri, 63166‑0299; and Research Associate, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, New York, 14204. Email:


August 1866

  Vol. 3. No. 123 [M 106]


                                    Schoharie, Aug. 10th, 1866


My dear Mentor


I think I must write you an old fashion letter I feel like it and if you have not the time to read it now, just let it rest until you have. I have just returned from Albany and the University Convocation and I must say I think one of the Regents is slightly remiss in duty. Now do not imagine my judgment is biased by my desire to behold your face. I speak calmly and after mature reflection, and I must say I did hope for better things this year. I look upon these meetings as a grand success, and so long as I am permitted to hover around and gather the droppings of the feast, I shall find no fault with the arrangement whereby women in general suppose they are excluded. Not even the Governor’s reception or the Chancellor’s levee had power to awaken my jealousy, for did I not have a private interview with the Governor at his residence next morning and did he not say many very pleasant things. Now do not smile at my enthusiasm, you who look from above upon Governors and such like have a bird’s eye view while to me who look from below they seem to hide all other light and I am eclipsed by them. Do you like Governor Fenton? I must tell you somethings about the meeting that you will not get from the reports. And first I wonder how the Regents ever hit upon so happy a plan to bring the different parts of our school or University system into sympathy, it is just the thing and it is improving every year. We had some rare things this year and many more than last year. I shall not give you the names of the great ones for then you will see at once my idea of greatness and I do not think it is quite perfect as I am constantly changing it, but I do enjoy listening to these good things from men of vast powers, and I cannot now recall one unpleasant things except the rain the last day and that did us no harm, but my dear Mentor why were you not there? never any leisure from duty? it is too bad, well Dr. Woolworth told me something of you that I shall not tell you now, but it was very pleasant to me at any rate, and if you remember your promise and visit me at my home this summer (which will have to be soon) I may give you some ... of it.


I have been out after plants and feel better as I knew I should. We found the Asclepias tuberosa which was once wanting in the Herbarium and if I was sure it was still needed I would make another journey to the top of the mountain for the specimen I have is not fine, also Spiranthes gracilis, Desmodium nudiflorum and what I take to be a species of Polygala. I will send you a specimen.


I visited in company with Prof. D..., what they call the coal mine, about four miles from here, they have gone, or rather followed a vein of something that looks very much like coal, a hundred feet into the side of the mountain, but I suppose it is not coal, and the company has been given up though they once dreamed of immense revenues to be derived from it. I am going to ramble now in right good earnest it will so soon be winter again. I shudder when I think of it not that I fear the cold, but more than one sad winter has left its impression upon me - but I will not think of it, it is not wise, I ask only for that firm faith that both in storm and sunshine can be calm, hopeful, trusting, assured that in the end “I shall be satisfied.”


Your former kindness assures me you will forgive, my second epistle before the answer of the former, and will still allow me to subscribe myself


                    Your disciple,


                            Rhoda Waterbury


Hon. G. W. Clinton


Should the plant be misnamed I think it would be the surest way to call

a reply from you so I shall not hesitate to call it something Polygala

verticillata, the two were found in quite different localities are they the

same species.


Recd Aug.13  Wrote ... Sept 2[9]


According to French (1860) the “Regents of the University are required to visit and inspect all colleges and academies, and report their condition, annually.” p. 125. Rhoda seems to hint at an understanding, perhaps given to her, about her knowledge that the “Regents hold their office during life, unless they resign or forfeit their place by ... accepting a civil office the duties of which are incompatible with their duties as Regents: but the members may be removed by concurrent resolution of the Senate and Assembly. They receive no pay.” p. 125. Footnote 2 elaborates: “What these offices are does not appear to have been settled. On several occasions an appointment to the bench of the Supreme Court has created a vacancy. Non-attendance at the meetings of the Board during one year has also been construed to vacate the seat of a Regent.” As of 1860, the Legislature had never removed a member of the Regents.


 The Chancellor is the senior officer of the Board of Regents.


Her private meeting with the Governor was also a private meeting with the Chairman of the special Committee for reorganizing the State Cabinet. If she sought to damage Clinton’s or Hall’s plans in any way, this was the perfect time to do it, when Hall had been made Curator and Charles Peck seemed to be clearly maneuvered into the position as botanist, or Curator of the New York Herbarium.


Reuben E. Fenton became governor of New York State on November 8, 1864.


  “... Mr. Hall had persistently urged upon the Board of Regents and his friends in the legislature, plans for enlarging the scope of the [New York State] Cabinet and in 1865, in response to a request of the Legislature, they transmitted a most carefully elaborated project for such reorganization.” (Clarke p383-4).  Dr. Samuel B. Woolworth was Secretary of the Board of Regents.  Governor Reuben E. Fenton was Chairman of the special Committee, the plan for augmentation of the State Cabinet. (p. 384-5). “Mr. Hall was made “Curator” of the State Cabinet in January [1866, Clarke erroneously wrote 1865] and was authorized to carry out the plan for a Museum as he had  proposed it and this action was supported by increased legislative appropriations.” p. 385. “Mr. Hall was now in the saddle as the official head of two reorganized State departments of science ...” independent in responsibility. “... Charles H. Peck, an Albany teacher who had been contributing important botanical papers to the reports, was made the botanical assistant, eventually to become the State Botanist. ..” Clarke, John M. 1921. James Hall of Albany Geologist and Palaeontologist 1811-1898. Albany, New York.


Reuben Eaton Fenton (1819-85) was born in Carroll, New York in Cattaraugus Co. at the western end of the State. In 1849 he was elected to the New York assembly and to Congress in 1852. "Although he was elected as a Democrat, his position on slavery led him to become a founder of the Republican party in New York. He presided over the first Republican state convention, was a Republican member of Congress (1857-64), and in 1864 was elected governor, defeating Horatio Seymour. He was reelected in 1866. His administration was marked by progress in education, particularly in the establishment of normal schools; Cornell Univ. was established during his governorship” (information from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.  2001-05).


Rhoda is now using the idea of withheld information to lure Clinton into an audience: what she said to the Governor, what was said with the Secretary of the Regents.


  “And first I wonder how the Regents ever hit upon so happy a plan to bring the different parts of our school or University system into sympathy, it is just the thing and it is improving every year.” This seems to imply that the various state education strata were being reorganized, just as the New York State Cabinet was under James Hall.


According to the website of the Board of Regents (March 2006) “Established by the New York State Legislature on May 1, 1784, the Regents of The University of the State of New York form the oldest, continuous state education entity in America.” “The concept of The University of the State of New York is a broad term encompassing all the institutions, both public and private, offering education in the State.” French, in 1860, recorded no Chancellor of the Regents and there may have been a government jurisdictional reorganization during the Civil War, redefining the distinction between the Colleges and Academies and the various “Public Schools,” perhaps incorporating various offices, such as that of the School Commissioners and the Superintendent of Public Instruction under control of the Regents.


 Rhoda chides Clinton at not being present.  “I shall find no fault with the arrangement whereby women in general suppose they are excluded.” It is curious that Rhoda indicates that women’s exclusion is only a supposition. The Women’s Rights Convention was convened in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. In the Declaration of Sentiments produced by the Convention was the statement “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpation’s on the part of man toward women, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. ... He had denied her the facilities of a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.” The Convention called for higher education for women. Before 1848, women had no access to higher education (colleges and universities). Female academies and seminaries abounded (Rhoda graduated from one). In the 1860’s, at the termination of civil hostilities, the fact of coeducation was beginning to emerge, or female colleges were annexed to the traditional male ones to prevent undergraduate gender mixing (information from Woman of Courage, website of the St. Lawrence Co., NY Branch of the American Association of University Women, March 2006).


If there was genuine fear that advanced education should make a woman unfit for marriage, perhaps Rhoda would be a good example, not for having been well educated (“educated like a man”) but for being clever. Her intelligence is remarkable, but it is more her aggression that resulted in the frustration of her ambitions with regard to Clinton, than her training. Throughout her letters Rhoda’s being old and unmarried reflects her sense of social discrimination, either for not having a husband, but possibly for engaging in a lifestyle frowned upon by convention. Her fascination with Clinton’s celebrity as the son of DeWitt Clinton elevates him, in her eyes, above the then governor of New York State. In her eyes, somehow her liaison with Clinton would elevate her above her station, an ambition ridiculed by (male) members of her own family. Rhoda envisioned some sort of social role dependent upon Clinton’s cooperation.


There was no exchange between Rhoda and Clinton in September, when Rhoda was undertaking to teach school.