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Guide to the Helen Chamlee Collection MS 303
MS 303  
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Collection Details
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  • Biographical / Historical Notes
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Preferred Citation
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Processing Information

  • Title: Helen Chamlee Collection
    Identifier/Call Number: MS 303
    Contributing Institution: San Diego History Center Document Collection
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 4.5 Linear feet (9 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1933-1991
    Abstract: This collection contains the personal papers, written works, and subject files of Helen Chamlee, a botanist at the San Diego Natural History Museum in the 1970s.
    creator: Chamlee, Helen

    Biographical / Historical Notes

    Born Helen Vallejo in 1908, Chamlee was a native San Diegan who was dedicated to botany, especially native species. A graduate of San Diego State University, she joined the staff at the San Diego Natural History Museum in 1969. After seven years in the Botany Department, Chamlee transferred to the Educational Activities Department and remained there for the duration of her career. She led countless field trips to parks, mountains, and deserts of the region, gave lectures on native plants, participated in workshops, seminars, and trainings. She developed at least 14 nature trails in San Diego County. Perhaps her greatest achievement while at the Natural History Museum was securing Florida Canyon in Balboa Park as a native plant preserve. She is also responsible for creating the museum’s naturalist guide group, the Canyoneers.
    Chamlee’s passion for native plants reached beyond her role at the Natural History Museum. She served as Botanical Editor for California Garden magazine, and was a contributing editor to Fremontia. She wrote a weekly column, “Canyon Trails,” that appeared in the Evening Tribune in the late 1970s, and published a book on the ferns of San Diego County. Chamlee was also a charter member of the California Native Plant Society, serving as President of the San Diego Chapter for two years, and was later honored as a Fellow. Her influence and contributions in the field were further recognized in 1977 when Chamlee received the honor award from the California Council of Landscape Architects. Additionally, a native plant garden at the Wild Animal Park (now Safari Park) was named after her. Chamlee developed a native botanic garden on her own two-acre property —dubbed Canyon Trails—and opened it once each year to public view.
    Helen Chamlee died in 1982.

    Scope and Content

    The collection contains Chamlee’s personal papers and writings as well as her subject files. Her writings include manuscripts of articles and her weekly newspaper column, “Canyon Trails.” The bulk of the collection contains subject files maintained by Chamlee. Most subjects pertain to botany, native plants, parks and canyons in San Diego County and other California locations, and fauna in relation to botany. The subject files often contain newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and other types of publications in addition to Chamlee’s own notes pertaining to the subject. A large subject area focuses on Balboa Park and especially Florida Canyon and the efforts made to designate it as a native plant preserve. Field trip plans and handouts from the Natural History Museum are also well represented.


    This collection is arranged in two series:
    Series I: Personal Papers;
    Series II: Subject Files.

    Preferred Citation

    Helen Witham Chamlee Collection, MS 303, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Helen Chamlee’s files were given to her friend, Carol Greentree. Greentree later donated them to the San Diego History Center along with her own files and those of Jean Marie Consigny Putman—all three focusing on botany.

    Processing Information

    Collection processed by Frank Sweeney in 2014.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    San Diego Natural History Museum.
    Anza-Borrego Desert (Calif.)
    Arid regions plants
    Balboa Park (San Diego, Calif.)
    Botanical gardens
    Endemic plants
    Fire resistant plants
    Gardens -- California -- San Diego
    Native plant gardens--California
    Nature trails--California
    San Diego (Calif.)
    Torrey Pines State Reserve (Calif.)
    Wild flowers