Oakes Ames | Blanche Ames Ames | Ames Family History | Life at Borderland

Oakes Ames (1874–1950) was the youngest son of Governor Oliver and Mrs. Anna C. Ames of North Easton. At the age of fifteen, Oakes collected his first orchids while studying the flora of Easton. After graduating from Harvard College in 1898, he established the Ames Botanical Laboratory, which became a world-renowned center for orchid and economic plant research. He joined the Harvard faculty, eventually becoming Research Professor and Director of the Botanical Museum.

While a student at Harvard, Oakes became friends with classmate Butler Ames of Lowell. While visiting the Lowell Ameses, he met Butler’s sister Blanche whom he married in 1900.

Oakes introduced Blanche to the study of orchids and the couple began a lifelong collaboration. Thanks to Oakes’ research and Blanche’s scientifically accurate illustrations, Orchidaceae has been more thoroughly documented then any other plant species. Oakes published numerous books, articles, and a seven-volume treatise on orchids, illustrated by his wife. His Economic Annuals and Human Culture (1939) was one of the first works to argue that agriculture was a female discovery, and that culture, as we define it, derived from the leisure time created by the development of agriculture. Another book used botanical evidence on the lineage of the corn plant to show that human habitation of this hemisphere went back thousands of years earlier than most scholars then believed.

Throughout his adult life, Oakes kept a meticulous record of the events and thoughts that filled each day. After his death, his daughter Pauline Ames Plimpton compiled and edited his diaries and letters; Oakes Ames: Jottings of a Harvard Botanist was published in 1979 by the Harvard University Press.