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Setchell, William Albert (1864-1943) | University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Name: Setchell, William Albert (1864-1943)

Historical Note:

William Albert Setchell, prominent phycologist and chair of the Botany Department at the University of California, Berkeley, was born on April 15, 1864 in Norwich, Connecticut. After developing an early interest in natural history, Setchell attended Yale University where he was able to use the library and herbarium of botanist Daniel Cady Eaton. After receiving his B. A. from Yale in 1887, he went to Harvard to study marine algae with William Farlow. While at Harvard he began to collect specimens of North American algae with Isaac Holden and Frank Shipley Collins. The end result of this project was the publication of the Phycotheca Boreali-Americana, a collected of dried algae specimens published in 46 bound volumes from 1895-1919.  In 1895 Setchell was hired by the University of California as Professor of Botany and Chair of the Botany Department, a position he held until he retired in 1934. His research focused on the taxonomy and distribution of marine algae with an emphasis on the distribution of species along temperature gradients. In California he collaborated with Nathaniel Lyon Gardner on the marine algae of the Pacific Coast of North America and traveled worldwide for his phycological research. His research interests were broad; in addition to marine algae he studied the formation of coral reefs, taxonomy of fungi, ethnobotany, plant genetics, and the thermal algae of Yellowstone National Park.

He was a popular instructor at the University of California at Berkeley and also served as the director for the campus botanical garden from 1895-1934.

Setchell was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Torrey Botanical Club as well as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and numerous other professional societies and organizations. He was also an active member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco.

He married Clara Bell Caldwell in 1920. She assisted him with his research and accompanied him on many of his research trips before passing away on September 4, 1934. They had no children.

William Setchell passed away in Berkeley, California on April 5, 1943.


1883            Began studying at Yale University

1883            Published Catalogue of Wild Plants Growing in Norwich and Vicinity

1887            Received A. B. from Yale University

1888            Received M. A. from Harvard University

1889            Met Frank Shipley Collins

1890            Received Ph.D. in botany from Harvard University

1890-1895    Summer supervisor of marine botany at Woods Hold Marine Biological Laboratory

1891            Graduate thesis published: “Concerning the life-history of Saccorhiza dermatodea”

1891            Hired as an assistant in Biology at Yale University

1892            Hired as Instructor in Biology at Yale University

1895            Hired as Assistant Professor of Botany at Yale University

1895            Hired as Professor of Botany and Chairman of the Department at the University of California, Berkeley

1895            First fascicle of Phycotheca boreali-americana published

1898            Visited Yellowstone National Park to study thermal algae

1899            Trip to Alaska (Bering Sea). with L. E. Hunt. W. L. Jepson, and A. A. Lawson.

1900            Trip to Hawaii, with L. E. Hunt.

1903-1904    First sabbatical: Round the World, eastward Berkeley to Philadelphia, Europe, Egypt, India, New Zealand.  General collecting, Marine algae, and herbarium studies.

1905            Visited Yellowstone National Park to study thermal algae

1919            Last (no. 46) fascicle of Phycotheca boreali-americana published

1919            Marine Algae of the Pacific Coast series first published

1919            Elected to the National Academy of Sceinces and the American Philosophical Society

1920            Married Clara B. Caldwell

1920            Spent summer in Samoan Islands studying crustaceous coralline algae and reef building

1922            Summer in Tahiti with Clara Setchell and  H. E. Parks

1924            Trip to Hawaii with Clara Setchell

1925            Published "The Marine Algae of the Pacific Coast of North America. Part III. Melanophyceae." in University of California Publications in Botany

1926            Delegate to the Third Pan-Pacific Science Congress in Tokyo

1926-1927    Round the world (with Clara B. Setchell): Tonga (with H.E. Parks, J. E. Hoffmeister, J. H. Ostergaard) , Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Japan (Congress), etc. Australia, New Zealand, So. Africa. Distribution, Coral reefs.

1929            Delegate to the Fourth Pacific Science Congress in Batavia and Bandoeng Java

1931            Faculty Research Lecturer at the University of California

Summers of 1931 and 1932      Traveled to Alaska with Mrs. Setchell to collect willows

1934            Retired from University of California

1934            Clara B. Setchell passes away

April 5, 1943 Died in Berkeley, California


Lipman, Charles B. William Albert Setchell. Science, May 21, 1943, v.97 no.2525, pg. 458.

Moe, Richard L. and Browne, Donald. Moe, R.L. and Browne, D. 1996. W.A. Setchell (1864-1943) & N.L. Gardner (1864-1937) In D.J. Garbary and W.J. Wynne (eds.), Prominent phycologists of the 20th century. Pp. 102-114. Lancelot Press, Hantsport, Nova Scotia, Canada

Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis. Setchell, William Albert. American National Biography Online February 2000. Retrieved from

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