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Bailey-Law Collection, 1825-1971 (Ms1982-002)

 Digital Record
Identifier: Ms1982-002


  • 1825 - 1971


Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish material from the Bailey-Law Collection must be obtained from Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

Biographical Information

John Eugene Law, son of John and Katherine E. Law, was born in Forest City, Iowa, on August 26, 1877. After graduating from high school in Perry, Iowa, Law attended the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University. Obtaining an A. B. in 1900, he held a series of bank positions in Pomona and Hollywood, California for the next several years before retiring from business in 1914. In 1919, he joined the California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Paid one dollar a year, Law served first as a curator in osteology and later as a curator in ptilology.

Though he conducted considerable research (particularly in California and the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona), published a number of papers and amassed a sizable collection of specimens, a great portion of Law's time was devoted to administrative duties for the Western Bird-banding Association and, to a greater extent, the Cooper Ornithological Club. He joined the COC in 1900 and would hold several key positions (Southern Division president, 1905, 1913-1915; vice-president, 1916-1917; secretary, 1906-1912; business manager, 1907-1925; president, board of governors, 1925).

Law married Laura Mauldin Beatty (1886-1975) in Los Angeles on January 20, 1915. Sharing an interest in ornithology, the couple often performed field work together, especially in bird-banding. John Eugene Law died on November 14, 1931. In 1937, Laura Beatty Law married another ornithologist, Harold Bailey.

Born in East Orange, New Jersey on October 13, 1878, Harold Harris Bailey was the son of Harold Balch Bailey and Lillie Adams Taylor. As a child, Bailey moved with his parents to Newport News, Virginia, and in 1906, he married Ida Margaret Eschenburg. Bailey worked as a naval architect and ship broker, perhaps while living in California, then returned to Newport News. He served four years as game inspector for Virginia and Maryland before resigning in 1918 to devote all of his time to the management of his farm on the James River in Virginia. Meanwhile, inheriting an interest in ornithology from his father, Bailey had published The Birds of Virginia in 1913.

Bailey moved with his wife and children to Miami, Florida, where he worked with the Bureau of Biological Survey and published The Birds of Florida in 1925. During his years in Florida, Bailey was instrumental in the establishment of Everglades National Park.

In 1937, Bailey married Laura Beatty Law, and the couple in 1942 moved with their extensive collections to Goshen, Virginia, where they renovated the abandoned Rockbridge Alum Springs mineral spa and established the Rockbridge Alum Springs Biological Laboratory. In 1961, Bailey established the Bailey Research Trust (later the Bailey Wildlife Foundation). Following Harold Bailey's death on July 24, 1962, Laura Bailey oversaw curatorial duties for the collection and presented it to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1969. She died in Lexington, Virginia on September 18, 1975.

Language of Materials


Acquisition Information

The Bailey-Law Collection was obtained in several separate accruals. The lithographed plates from Bailey's The Birds of Florida were donated to Special Collections in 1980. The bulk of the collection, however, was received via transfers from Virginia Tech's Department of Biology in 1982 and from the Virginia Museum of Natural History at Virginia Tech in 2003.

Alternative Form Available

Digital images of several pieces of original artwork in the collection may be found in the Virginia Tech Imagebase.

Related Material

Books from the Bailey-Law Collection may be found by performing a keyword search on "Bailey-Law Collection" in Addison, the library's catalog.

The extensive collection of bird skins, bird eggs, and mammal skins amassed by Law and Bailey were given to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's Department of Biology in 1969. In 1990, the collection was transferred to the Virginia Tech branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. When the branch closed in 2003, most of the collection was transferred to the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville; the remainder was retained by Virginia Tech's Department of Biology.

General Physical Description note

32 containers; 14.5 cu. ft.


Papers of ornithologists John Eugene Law and Harold H. Bailey, including notes on bird species, habitat, and behavior; correspondence; field journals; printed materials; photographs and other images. Among Bailey's papers are files relating to his books, The Birds of Virginia and The Birds of Florida, as well as his operation of the Rockbridge Alum Springs Biological Laboratory. Also includes biographical files on hundreds of other naturalists and ornithologists, including such materials as correspondence, writings, photographs, field notes, and biographical sketches.


The collection is organized in the following series:

Series I. John Eugene Law Papers, 1891-1931. This series is arranged in three subseries:

Subseries I. Correspondence, 1902-1930. Most significant among Law's correspondence is a large collection of letters between Law and Joseph Grinnell, director of the University of California's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Also included is correspondence with a handful of other naturalists. Arranged by correspondent name.

Subseries II. Subject files, 1912-1930. This subseries, containing mostly handwritten notes, consists of a collection of subject files maintained by Law concerning bird species, behavior and physiology. Included are large files on toxostoma (probably from Law's 1928 article on the curve-billed thrasher) as well as the Chiricahua Mountains of New Mexico, to which Law devoted a number of research trips. Arranged alphabetically by subject matter.

Subseries III. Research and field work, 1891-1931. This subseries includes materials produced by Law while performing ornithological research in the library and the field. Included are a series of research notebooks consisting largely of data gleaned from published sources. Among the field journals also contained in this subseries are notes on bird, nest and egg observations and collections made in California, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and unidentified locations. Arranged by document type.

Series II. Harold Harris Bailey Papers, 1910-1967. This series is arranged in five subseries:

Subseries I. Correspondence, 1915-1959. This small set of letters relates to ornithology as well as more general matters. Arranged chronologically.

Subseries II. Field and Research Work, 1911-1967. Bailey's field notes are contained in this subseries, as are a collection of bird banding records (which were likely commenced by John Eugene Law before being continued by Bailey), and various materials relating to Bailey's collections, including a case--used by both Bailey and his father--for collecting eggs.

Subseries III. Subject Files, 1910-1953. This brief subseries includes a handful of topics on which Bailey collected materials. Foremost among the topics is Bailey's longstanding, albeit seemingly one-sided, feud with the American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Club, resulting from Bailey's stance on the 1931 A.O.U. checklist and other matters.

Subseries IV. Publications, 1913-1947. Included within these files are materials arising from the publication of Bailey's The Birds of Virginia (1913) and The Birds of Florida (1925). The subseries contains production correspondence, promotional material, and sales records. Also included are correspondence and lists relating to the Bulletin of the Bailey Museum and Library of Natural History, together with sample issues of the publication.

Subseries V. Rockbridge Alum Springs, 1945-1962. Various topics relating to the Baileys' establishment and operation of the Rockbridge Alum Springs Biological Laboratory are contained in this subseries. Included are files on Bailey's attempt to have a flyway lake constructed at the springs, an ongoing battle with trespassing hunters, requests for game and fish stock, the possible acquisition of adjoining lands, and the creation of a naturalists portrait gallery. Throughout the correspondence in this subseries, as elsewhere within the collection, Bailey's letters overflow with vitriol and belligerence, particularly against the academic naturalist establishment. When not criticizing fellow naturalists, he directs barbs against such general topics as the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and communism.

Series III. Naturalists Biographical Files, 1825-1971. Comprising the core of the collection, the biographical files represent the Baileys' attempt to compile reference files on 19th- and 20- century naturalists. (The Baileys had titled the collection the Naturalist Autograph Files, but because the collection comprises more than autographs, it was given a broader title during processing.) The collection contains a broad scope of materials, ranging from correspondence to field notes, biographical sketches, printed materials, and photographs. Included among these are items that the Baileys "inherited" from other naturalists, as well as materials on a few individuals not known as naturalists, including letters signed by U. S. President Herbert Hoover and author James Branch Cabell, as well as a painting by artist Carl Moon.

Unique among the materials in this series is an autograph book maintained by Harold Balch Bailey, containing the autographs of notable 19th-century personages, including U. S. presidents and other political leaders; Union Army generals; authors; musicians; and artists. Also among the elder Bailey's papers are some documents regarding a 19th-century Massachusetts militia, including an item signed by John Quincy Adams. Other unusual items include Charles Townsend's file of material on Easter Island and a notebook of natural science observations maintained by Herman Haupt Jr. The series is arranged in two subseries:

Subseries I. Numerical files, 1825-1970. The files in this subseries comprise the Baileys' original "Naturalist Autograph Files" and remain as the couple compiled them. Each name is associated with a unique number, and the files are arranged numerically, with two indexes to the collection at the end. Many of the names represented in these files may also be found in Subseries II.

Subseries II. Alphabetical files, 1836-1971. The files in this subseries were compiled from materials found loose within the collection. The items seem to have been intended by the Baileys for their autograph files but had yet to be integrated. The collection includes the same types of materials found in the numbered folders but is arranged alphabetically. Many of the names represented in these files may also be found in Subseries I. At the end of the subseries is a bound set of various collectors' egg catalogs.

Series IV. Printed Material, 1882-1969. This series includes a small selection of printed materials deemed best left with the manuscript collection when other printed materials were transferred to the Rare Book Collection. Most significant among the holdings are materials of the Cooper Ornithological Club / Cooper Ornithological Society and a collection of catalogs offering bird eggs, bird skins, cabinetry, and supplies for ornithologists, naturalists and taxidermists. Arranged by subject matter.

Series V. Images, 1904-1942. This series is arranged by format in two subseries:

Subseries I. Color Plates and Other Illustrations, 1913-1922. This subseries consists largely of color plates detached from various illustrated publications, as well as sets of color prints. Other illustrations and paintings associated with individuals may be found in Series III.

Subseries II. Photographs, 1902-1937. Considering the breadth of Bailey and Law's research and collecting activities during a span of several decades, the collection contains relatively few photographs. Included is are full sets of original photos and half-tones used for Bailey's The Birds of Virginia. The photographs have been divided among the following categories: The Birds of Virginia, nests and eggs, birds, people, exhibits, specimens, and scenery. Included among the scenery are a few photos and postcards of Mountain Lake, the Cascades and Castle Rock in Giles County, Virginia. Photographs made by and of identified naturalists may be found in Series III.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement and description of the Bailey-Law Collection commenced in June 2009 and was completed in October 2009.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US