William Willard ASHE
- Born: 4 Jun 1872, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina
- Marriage: Margaret Haywood HENRY in 1906
- Died: 18 Mar 1932, Washington D.C., USA aged 59
- Buried: 20 Mar 1932, Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, USA
Extract from "Alumni History of the University of North Carolina: 1795 to 1924"
Ashe, William Willard: Forester
930 "F" st., N.W. Washington D.C.; B. Litt. 1891; M.S. Cornell 1892; b. Raleigh, June 4, 1872; p. Samuel A'Court and Hannah (Willard); m. Mrs Margaret Henry Wilcox; asst. dist. forester, U.S Forest Service; sec. nat. forest reservation comm.; author numerous articles on milling efficiency and forest economics, several used as text books in tech. schools; Episcopalian.
William Willard Ashe was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 4, 1872. His family inhabited a rambling antebellum estate named Elmwood which provided Ashe, described by one biographer as a "congenital naturalist," with abundant woods and fields to explore for curiosities. It is reported that Willard and his brother Samuel together published a small tract called "The West End Sun" with woodcuts carved by Willard. A copy of this work was placed in the cornerstone of the State Agricultural College Building in Raleigh. Much of the young man's spare time was spent collecting specimens and his collections required a two-story building by the time he entered college. Ashe clearly had the eye of a scientist and was known for being able to readily discern differences between very similar plants. At the age of fifteen, Ashe entered the University of North Carolina, matriculating in 1891. The following year he received his M.S. from Cornell, where he specialized in botany and geology. From 1892 to 1905, he was employed as a forester by the North Carolina Geological Survey, but also worked on special projects with the recently-formed United States Forest Service. Ashe remained a professional forester all of his life, conducting his work on floristics and systematic botany in his spare time or as a minor sideline to his forestry labors. Realizing this makes a look at a list of Ashe's publications that much more amazing.
In 1905 Ashe joined the U.S. Forest Service full time and was employed there until his death in 1932. During this time he served as Secretary of the National Forest Reservation Commission (1918-1924), vice-president of the Society of American Foresters (1919), and chairman of the Forest Service Tree Name Committee (1930-1932). In 1906 he married Margaret Henry Wilcox, for whom he named Crataegus margaretta and Quercus margaretta. His botanical works centered around woody plants, especially the genus Crataegus, although he also published on such herbaceous genera as Asarum and Panicum. His keen eye for detail led him to create many new taxa, publishing 510 plant names during his career. Many of these have gone into synonomy.
In 1906, William married a widow and distant cousin, Margaret Henry Wilcox, but they had no children.
Biography of William Willard Ashe (1872-1932) by Rob Messick (March 2008).
The first person to do short comprehensive biographies of W. W. Ashe characterized him as " . . . a distinguished forester and high-minded southern gentleman". William A. Dayton knew his subject, and was himself a well regarded Plant Ecologist in the US Forest Service. Wilbur Mattoon, also a close colleague, made a symposium of perspectives by people who knew Ashe, contributing further to our understanding of a man who wore many hats including that of practical forester and naturalist. After over a decade of research it's clear Ashe was an important figure in the Custodial Era of the US Forest Service, though his influence clearly reaches beyond the agency. He was a skinny man with plenty of energy, a sense of humor, and well-honed field work skills. He was a person of notable integrity in the conservation of forest lands in eastern North America, particularly in the southeast.
Since being a teenager in Raleigh, NC he had developed a keen eye for differences among plants. He went on to make significant contributions to systematic botany throughout his forty year career, and this work is likely what he is best remembered for. Numerous published articles that contain his botanical listings show his plant collecting endeavors covered every eastern state in the U. S. but two. Of the 510 new botanical names that he published, only a relative few have survived in current botanical nomenclature. At least 8 plants that were named after him are accepted, and bear the eponym ashei. These include trees, shrubs, and one listed herb.
He began doing forest work with the North Carolina Geological Survey at 19 years old as
Assistant to the State Geologist in Charge of Timber Investigations. It was the summer of 1891, between his last year of college at UNC Chapel Hill and the Masters Degree he soon got at Cornell University. After getting mountain, Piedmont, and coastal forest work on a good early footing up to 1897, he began doing contract work with the USDA Division of Forestry the following year. One of the projects the Division assisted with was the study of loblolly pine in North Carolina. This eventually lead to a 1915 NCGES bulletin on the subject, which remains one of his most important Dendrological texts.
Ashe's involvement as a Special Agent under contract with USDA proceeded through the Bureau of Forestry. He also did some contract work with the early US Forest Service that went beyond North Carolina (1905-09). Perhaps his most significant field work with the Bureau and USGS was alongside H. B. Ayers in the southern Appalachians in 1900-01. Their work was published three times, in 1902, 1905, and 1911. It played a significant role in efforts to push for passage of an Act of Congress that would give permission to buy national forest lands from private owners in the east. Ashe later worked with USDA and USGS in the Potomac River Basin in Virginia, envisioning in 1906-07 a rough assemblage of public lands from southern Pennsylvania, though the central Appalachians, and further south.
One of the lesser known facts about Ashe's contributions to forestry is the role he played in helping to initiate state forestry in a number of southeastern states beyond North Carolina. In the early 1900s he did this work in Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama. In this period he also made solid contributions to the Dendrology and physical characteristics of numerous commercial tree species by researching, writing, and co-authoring bulletins on white oak, chestnut oak, American chestnut, shortleaf pine, yellow poplar, and loblolly pine.
Ashe went full time with the US Forest Service in 1909, the same year Aldo Leopold started
working with the agency. He worked with the National Forest Reservation Commission from its start in 1911 until his death in March 1932. By 1928 he had worked his way up in the USFS to the position of Senior Forest Inspector for Region 7, which then covered the eastern U. S. excluding the Lake States. His involvement with the botany of trees persisted, as he served on the USFS Tree Name Committee from 1928 to 1932, and chaired it in the last two full years of his life. He was a successor to Charles Sargent and George Sudworth, both prominent scientists in this vein who passed away in 1927.
There are many reasons W. W. Ashe has remained relatively obscure in the history of forestry and the establishment of national forests in the east. He was certainly an introvert, who eventually got past insecurities of his earlier years. By all accounts he was a practitioner who was modest about his own accomplishments throughout his life. He does not appear to have won any awards for his efforts. Like his close friend William Coker, he preferred to stay out of the limelight, though by contrast he could stand before members of the timber industry at conferences in the 1910s and 1920s and essentially tell them how they should be running their businesses.
Ashe's interest in forests stretched far beyond economics, however. He saw past reductionist
characterizations of mountain and pine-oriented forests of the southeast as being composed of less than 50 commercial tree species. Ashe recognized that these forests, covering many geographic regions, were composed of over 150 major tree species, hundreds of trees and shrubs under the canopy, and thousands of smaller plants including herbs, ferns, and mosses etc. In short, he was an early USFS employee, and a major architect of the acquisition of eastern national forests, who understood the importance of biological diversity. He had a perspective that reached back to the formative years of the 1890s, and to the beginning of ideas to create a system of national forest lands in the eastern United States.
William also made formal contributions to early ecological work. These include the landmark
Timber Trees and Forests of NC in 1897 (NCGS Bulletin #6), correspondence with Henry Cowles in 1901, and reproduction of his whole tree photographs and forest descriptions in the 1903 English translation of A. F. W. Schimper's book titled Plant Geography Upon A Physiological Basis. He later put together a reviewed article titled Forest Types of the Appalachians and White Mountains in March 1922. This article appeared in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society and was used by the Society of American Foresters Committee on Forest Type Classification (Southern Appalachian Section). The committee published a classification in 1926. The results of the committee's work was less ecological in character, in essence it was more simplified, concentrating on 1 or 2 commercial tree species per type.
Ashe's contribution to early awareness about primary forests and natural areas is legendary. He
certainly passed through and documented some uncut forests from the 1890s to the 1910s. By 1915-16 he was looking at specific tracts with these characteristics that could potentially be set aside as Research Natural Areas. After querying early USFS employees he put together a strong list of candidates for this designation, and published it in the Journal of Forestry in March 1922. A year later William wrote articles about the importance of forest parks, suggesting Linville Gorge become one of these at a time before the gorge was included as part of the national forests. In the 1920s he participated with the Ecological Society of America in their landmark work to catalog natural areas in North America. Ashe's efforts to get the Heart's Content tract set aside in Pennsylvania in the late 1920s is exemplary in many ways. His interest in the subject didn't lag. A record of an uncut area was found in one of his notebooks, made during his last year of intensive travel in 1931.
Another persistent theme in his career, from days with the NC Geological Survey to the national
forest acquisitions process, was forest influences on water quality. Like water itself it resurfaces in the 174 part bibliography of Ashe's published work. The scope of topics in this bibliography, and the grasp he had of issues in his time are certainly of historical significance. This inspired the assemblage of a companion bibliography of published work that mentions Ashe, which is now up to 320 entries and covers
every decade from the 1890s to the present. Many regarded him as a polymath, and some as a genius. One of his coworkers, Leon Kneipp, and his closest brother, Samuel, referred to him as the latter.
William's status as a forester, even though he lacked a specialized degree in the discipline, is confirmed by numerous sources. He was the first forester employed by the state of North Carolina, perhaps also as a native of the southeast, and was referred to as a forester later in his career. Despite this the Society of American Foresters (SAF) did not accept Ashe as a fellow of the organization. He was a member of SAF from 1907 on, and he served as its Vice President during a turbulent period in 1919.
W. W. Ashe had a strong sense of the economics of forestry. His many articles and contributions on the subject attest to this. In the mid-1920s G. P. Gemmill of Edgar Lumber Company in Wesson, AR tested some of Ashe's published assertions about timber yield and found them to be conservative. One theme Ashe harped on persistently was the need to leave small trees to grow for future profits, since cutting and processing small trees proved to be wasteful based on his own empirically derived figures. Ashe's knowledge of the monetary value of timber lands in his time was usually not questioned by E. A. Sherman, Ashe's supervisor in the US Forest Service. William's adherence to frugality with regard to land purchases for the eastern national forests saved the US Government thousands of dollars annually.
William was highly regarded by his colleagues and coworkers. His character also came through in interviews with extended Ashe family members, and with those of his wife Margaret. When an official obituary about Ashe was published by a committee of the NC Academy of Science, an organization Ashe helped found, the three authors who knew him personally stated:
"He was a man of transparent honesty, unselfish devotion to duty, happy and cheerful in his own
work, and always appreciative of the work of others."
Extract from "Dictionary of North Carolina: Vol. I" by William S. Powell (1994)
Ashe, William Willard (4 June 1872 - 18 Mar. 1932), forester, dendrologist, and conservationist, was born at Elmwood, the family home in Raleigh. The oldest of nine children of Samuel A'Court Ashe and Hannah Emerson Willard Ashe, he was a descendant of Samuel Ashe, North Carolina governor from 1795-1798, and the grandson of William Shepherd Ashe, U.S. congressman from 1849 to 1855.
Ashe was a Democrat and an Episcopalian. He married his widowed distant cousin, Mrs Margaret Henry Wilcox in 1906; they had no children, although his wife had children by her previous marriage. Ashe died in Washington, D.C., following the third operation for a hernia contracted on a field trip. He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.
William married Margaret Haywood HENRY, daughter of Unknown and Jane E. HENRY, in 1906. (Margaret Haywood HENRY was born 15 Jul 1856 in Virginia, USA and died 7 Oct 1939.)