Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Inventory of the Bailey Willis Papers, 1856-1957, (bulk 1880-1949)
Consult repository  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (386.96 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Subject matter
  • Persons represented by over 20 pieces
  • Important or interesting items
  • Physical description
  • Arrangement of collection
  • Bibliography
  • Material Cataloged Separately
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Bailey Willis Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1856-1957, (bulk 1880-1949)
    Creator: Willis, Bailey, 1857-1949
    Extent: 11,799 pieces (excluding printed material and photographs)
    Repository: The Huntington Library
    San Marino, California 91108
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Gift of Margaret (Willis) Smith, Cornelius Grinnell Willis and Robin Willis, June 1962 and October 1969


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information please go to following URL .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Bailey Willis Papers, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    Bailey Willis (1857-1949), geologist, now is principally known for his research on earthquakes and earthquake resistant building. He was the son of poet and journalist Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867) and Cornelia (Grinnell) Willis (1826?-1904) of the prominent New England Grinnell family. Their children were: Cornelius Grinnell Willis (known as Nelt or Grinnell), Edith (Willis) Grinnell (who married her cousin, Lawrence Grinnell), Lilian (Willis) Boit, and Bailey. Imogen was Bailey's half sister, being the daughter of N. P. Willis and his first wife.
    After the death of N. P. Willis, Cornelia took Bailey to Germany where he received a strict German education. He returned to New York and attended Columbia University, graduating with one degree in Geology (E.M.) in 1878 and another in engineering (C.E.) in 1879. He was recommended for a position in the United States Geological Survey and served under Raphael Pumpelly. He explored for coal fields in the Puget Sound area, worked on the Northern Transcontinental Survey (1881-1884) and for the Northern Pacific Railway.
    In 1882 Willis married his cousin, Altona Holstein Grinnell. They had two children, Marion (who died in infancy) and Hope (later married to Seward Rathbun). Altona died in 1896 and in 1898 Willis married Margaret Delight Baker, daughter of anatomy professor, Dr. Frank Baker. They had three children: Cornelius Grinnell Willis (known as Neal), Robin Willis (often called Bob), and Margaret (addressed as Gretl or later, Laddie, who married Donald F. Smith).
    From 1885-1892 Willis served on the Appalachian Division of the U.S. Geological Survey; from 1896-1900 as Assistant to the Geologist and later as Geologist in Charge (1900-1902). In 1903-04 he was sent by the Carnegie Institution of Washington for geological exploration in China. From 1907-1910 he worked on compiling the Geological Map of North America. From 1911-14 he became consulting geologist to the minister of public works of Argentina studying economic resources in Patagonia, railroad routes over the Andes and making surveys that helped establish Argentina's National Park of Nahuel Huapi in the southern Andes. He was professor of geology at Stanford University from 1915 until his retirement in 1922. He became research associate of the Carnegie Institution carrying on investigations on earthquakes in Chile (1923), the Orient, Palestine and Cyprus (1927), East Africa (1929) and later was in Japan, the Philippine Islands, and India (1937).
    During World War I he was chief of the Latin-American division of the Commission of Inquiry headed by Col. Edward M. House in preparation for the Paris Peace Conference. During World War II he gave assistance to the armed services through information and maps and he returned to the classroom to teach geology at Stanford University.
    Willis is known chiefly for his studies of earthquakes (with the related fields of faults, rift valleys, and quake-resistant building construction.) He opposed the theory of Gondwanaland and preferred the idea of isthmian links between continents. He was especially interested in the dynamics of the living globe--isostasy of land masses, changes caused by vulcanism, radioactivity, etc. Bailey Willis was the center of many controversies; he eagerly expounded his points of view and was quick to apologize if proved wrong.
    Willis wrote innumerable reports and articles as well as books, including Geologic Structures, Living Africa, A Yanqui in Patagonia, and Friendly China. He received many honors and awards, including an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Berlin (1910) and Sc.D. from Columbia University (1929), the Gold Medal of the Société Géographique de France (1910) and the Commander Order of Leopold II (1933). He belonged to scientific organizations such as: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Geological Society of America (president in 1928), Seismological Society of America (president, 1921-1926), American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cosmos Club and Explorers' Club as well as many others. His interests covered a wide range: his avocation was landscape painting, his geographical studies covered the entire globe, he was an explorer, public speaker, family man, and teacher.

    Subject matter

    • Geology
    • Earthquakes
    • China
    • Argentina

    Persons represented by over 20 pieces

    Berkey, Charles Peter
    (30 pieces)
    Blackwelder, Eliot
    (147 pieces)
    Chamberlin, Rollin Thomas
    (32 pieces)
    Chamberlin, Thomas Chrowder
    (46 pieces)
    Day, Arthur Louis
    (51 pieces)
    Gulliver, Frederick Putnam
    (21 pieces)
    Hayes, Charles Willard
    (44 pieces)
    Kubel, Stephen Joseph
    (24 pieces)
    Osborn, Henry Fairfield
    (21 pieces)
    Penck, Albrecht
    (21 pieces)
    Pumpelly, Raphael
    (41 pieces)
    Salisbury, Rollin D.
    (21 pieces)
    Schuchert, Charles
    (30 pieces)
    Smith, George Otis
    (28 pieces)
    Stose, George Willis
    (52 pieces)
    Van Hise, Charles Richard
    (25 pieces)
    Walcott, Charles Doolittle
    (74 pieces)
    Willis, Bailey
    (4,193 pieces)
    Willis, Cornelia (Grinnell)
    (290 pieces)
    Willis, Margaret Delight (Baker)
    (854 pieces)
    Woodward, Robert Simpson
    (64 pieces)

    Important or interesting items

    • Tolmie, William Fraser. To Bailey Willis.
      Date: 1883, May. 22.
      Copy of letter giving description of his ascent of Mount Rainier in 1833. Box 22 (74)
    • Willis, Bailey. To Eduoard Suess.
      Date: 1904, Apr. 17.
      Draft of letter describing his work in China. Box 33 (23)
    • Willis, Bailey. To Charles Doolittle Walcott.
      Date: 1904, Mar. 8.
      Report on his work in China. Box 34 (4)
    • Willis, Bailey. To Margaret Delight (Baker) Willis.
      Date: 1911, Oct. 25.
      Description of crossing the Andes on a cow catcher. Box 36 (21)
    • Willis, Bailey. To Margaret Delight (Baker) Willis.
      Date: 1937, Apr. 16.
      Discussion of possible Japanese penetration on Philippine Islands. Box 32 (5) (See also letter of Bailey Willis to Margaret (Willis) Smith. 1941, Dec. 13. Box 32 (9)
    • Willis, Bailey. To Margaret (Willis) Smith.
      Date: 1937, July 2.
      Description of Japanese on Formosa. Box 37 (5)
    • Willis, Bailey. Letters to his family (filed under letters to Margaret Delight (Baker) Willis, Margaret (Willis) Smith, Cornelius Grinnell Willis, Robin Willis, and Hope (Willis) Rathbun written on his travels (the letters are sometimes called "budgets" or "logs").

    Physical description

    All incoming letters are originals and in good condition; letters from Bailey Willis to his family are originals but many have been cut with portions extracted and many have pages missing; the outgoing letters of Bailey Willis (other than to family) are typewritten carbon copies of drafts of letters.

    Arrangement of collection

    Collection is divided into 4 sections, arranged alphabetically.
    Section I - Manuscripts (i.e., publishable manuscripts, reports, etc.)
    Section II - Correspondence
    Section III - Miscellaneous papers and printed material
    Section IV - Photographs, ephemera, and unidentified authors


    Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement IV, p. 896
    National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 37:53-54
    Who's Who in America, 1900-1950 (Vols. 1-26)
    Who Was Who in America, II:582

    Material Cataloged Separately

    Several thousand photographs taken by Bailey Willis during his scientific expeditions (e.g., China in 1903-1904, Argentina in 1911-13, Chile in 1923, Palestine in 1927, East Africa in 1929 and other travels) will be found in the Rare Book Department (Photographic Archives) of the Huntington Library.

    Related Material

    We have been told that there is a collection of glass plate negatives and other material created by Bailey Willis at the Western History Research Center at the University of Wyoming, as well as material by Bailey Willis at Stanford University.