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Finding Aid to the François Matthes Papers, 1874-1965, bulk 1900-1950
BANC MSS C-B 821  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biographical Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: François Matthes papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1874-1965,
    Date (bulk): bulk 1900-1950
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-B 821
    Creators : Matthes, François, 1874-1948
    Extent: Number of containers: Number of containers: 9 boxes, 3 cartons, 2 oversize folders Linear feet: Linear feet: 7.5
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, California, 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    URL: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/
    Abstract: The François Matthes papers consist of personal and professional correspondence and writings spanning his academic life as a student in the 1890s, through his professional career as a geologist, to his death in 1948. Included are artwork, letters, newspaper clippings, typescripts, abstracts, notes, maps, and field books. Also included are materials from posthumously published books, book reviews, and biographical sketches gathered by colleagues and family members as late as 1963. The bulk of the material in this collection dates from 1900 to 1950.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English
    Physical Location: Many of the Bancroft Library collections are stored offsite and advance notice may be required for use. For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94270-6000. Consent is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must obtained from the copyright owner. See: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/reference/permissions.html .
    Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational purposes.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], François Matthes Papers, BANC MSS C-B 821, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternate Forms Available

    There are no alternate forms of this collection.

    Related Collections

    François Emil Matthes Sierra Club papers, 1915, BANC MSS 71/295 c, Series 49
    California State Earthquake Investigation Commission photographs from the Andrew C. Lawson collection, BANC PIC 1957.007--NEG
    Portraits from the François Matthes papers, BANC PIC 1961.005--PIC
    Photographs from the François Matthes papers, BANC PIC 1961.019--PIC
    Scout Naturalist Expedition in Yosemite National Park, BANC PIC 1962.021--PIC

    Separated Material

    Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Matthes, Francois, 1874-1948
    Geological Survey (U.S.)
    Geology--West (U.S.)
    Geology--Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.)
    Topographical surveying
    Earthquakes--California--San Francisco
    Fires--California--San Francisco
    San Francisco Earthquake, Calif., 1906
    Matthes, Edith Lovell (Coyle)
    Online Archive of California
    History of science and technology collection

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The François Matthes Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by his widow, Edith Lovell (Coyle) Matthes, in 1961. Additions were made in 1961, 1966, and 1973 by Professor F. M. Fryxell.


    No additions are expected.

    Processing Information

    Processed by History Associates Incorporated in 2003.

    Biographical Information

    Geologist François Emile Matthes was born in 1874 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He spent his childhood in Germany and Switzerland, where he developed a love for mountains and glaciers. In 1891, Matthes, along with his twin brother Gerard, came to the United States to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and earned a B.S. degree in 1895 in geodetic and topographic engineering. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1896.
    In 1896, he worked as a temporary field assistant on the United States Geological Survey making topographical maps of the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In 1898, he received a Civil Service appointment and was assigned to map the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Matthes so impressed the director of the Geological Survey with his ability to depict geological formations together with the sculptured relief left by glacial action that he was assigned to map what is now Glacier National Park in 1900-1901. He then went on to map the Grand Canyon in 1902-1904. In the course of these mapping projects, Matthes became more interested in studying land forms and decided to take a course in physiography at Harvard. He was offered a teaching position, but declined when he was invited by the Geological Survey to return to the field to map the Yosemite Valley in 1905-1906. While mapping Yosemite, Matthes determined the height of all its great cliffs and waterfalls by triangulation and gained an intimate knowledge of the physiography of the region. He was in Berkeley in 1906 during the San Francisco Earthquake, and made field studies for the State Earthquake Investigation Commission of California, surveying its effects upon the coast. Later, in 1910-1911, he mapped Mount Rainier National Park. It was also in 1911 that Matthes married Edith Lovell Coyle.
    It was Matthes' work in Yosemite that led the Geological Survey to assign him the task of studying the geomorphic development of the area. Matthes methodically traced all the moraines of the ancient glaciers and determined definitely, in 1914, the limits which those ice streams had attained. In doing this, Matthes put to rest the question about their origins that had remained an issue ever since the days of John Muir. Before publishing his views on Yosemite, Matthes decided to study other great canyons of the Sierra Nevada and investigated a great part of the range. A request from the National Park Service to cover Sequoia National Park allowed him to complete his work down to the southern limit of the glaciation. His discovery that the glaciers that exist in the Sierra Nevada are not remnants of great ice streams of the glacial period, but a new generation born only a few thousand years ago attracted the attention of glaciologists and climatologists worldwide. In 1931, Matthes organized a permanent research committee on glaciers as a way to secure systematic data on glaciers in America and was named secretary of the International Commission on Snow and Glaciers in 1940.
    Although Matthes and his wife had no children, he shared his great love of the outdoors with the Boy Scouts of America. He became the scoutmaster of a Washington D.C. troop in 1915, and later in 1920 took a group of eagle scouts from the East Coast on a tour though Yosemite. So beloved was he by the Boy Scouts, that he was honored with a Silver Beaver award in 1931. Matthes also received other honors in his lifetime. Earlier, in 1920, he was decorated as Chevalier in the Order of Leopold II, by King Albert of Belgium for his work on the glacial history of Yosemite. He was also an honorary vice president of the Sierra Club, and belonged to the American Geophysical Union, the Association of American Geographers, and the British Glaciological Society. In 1947, when Matthes retired from the Geological Survey, he was honored with a gold medal for his distinguished service.
    His well-deserved retirement, at age 70, was postponed for three years during World War II when he served his country in connection with geological, water supply, and meteorological problems. Upon his retirement, Matthes and his wife moved to El Cerrito, California. One of the last honors Matthes received was an honorary degree of L.L.D. conferred upon him by the University of California in 1947. Matthes suffered a heart attack and a stroke on April 18,1948, and died two months later on June 21. In 1949, the Sierra Club honored his memory by naming two geographic features at Yosemite National Park, "Matthes Crest" and "Matthes Lake," after their distinguished honorary vice president.
    Matthes was a prolific writer with the ability to write professional papers for a scientific audience as well as popular articles for the general public. Upon his death, Matthes had published more than 60 articles, and wrote several unpublished works. Many of his writings reflect his love for Yosemite such as "Half Dome of the Yosemite Valley," published in 1910; "The Story of the Yosemite Valley," published in 1922 and 1924; "The Glaciological History of the Yosemite Valley," published in 1930; and "The Last Yosemite Highway Robbery," published in 1947. Matthes had intended on writing a book he referred to as his "Yosemite book," after World War II, yet did not complete it before his death. Through the efforts of his wife Edith and colleague Fritiof Fryxell, two books, based on Matthes' drafts and notes, were published posthumously. The Incomparable Valley was published in 1950 followed by François Matthes and the Marks of Time in 1962.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The François Matthes papers consist of personal and professional correspondence and writings spanning his academic life as a student in the 1890s, through his professional career as a geologist, to his death in 1948. Included are artwork, letters, newspaper clippings, typescripts, abstracts, notes, maps, and field books. Also included are materials from posthumously published books, book reviews, and biographical sketches gathered by colleagues and family members as late as 1963. The bulk of the material in this collection dates from 1900 to 1950.
    The largest series in this collection is Series 3: Writings. Materials related to Matthes' writings, include books, journal articles, abstracts, typescripts, maps, notes, and field books. Most concern his work in geology in the Sierra Nevada and U. S. National Parks, including Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Sequoia National Park. Also included are writings for the Boy Scouts of America and materials related to two books that were published posthumously by his wife and Matthes' colleague, Fritiof M. Fryxell.
    Series 1: Correspondence is the second largest series and includes incoming and outgoing correspondence of Matthes and of his wife Edith Lovell (Coyle) Matthes. The correspondence of F.E. Matthes is primarily comprised of letters to and from organizations and individuals related to the field of geology, although some personal correspondence with family and friends is included. The correspondence of Edith Lovell (Coyle) Matthes consists of letters to and from her family, her husband's colleagues, and publishers.
    Series 4: Organizations is the smallest series in the collection and only contains records from a few of the organizations with which Matthes was associated. Another area for which documentation is lacking is Matthes' early work as a topographer in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma (1896), and in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming (1898). Also missing is his work during World War I describing the geologic environments of Camp McClellan, Alabama and Camp Gordon, Georgia.