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George Jarvis Brush family papers

Call Number: MS 108

Scope and Contents

The Brush Family Papers consist primarily of the correspondence of mineralogist, geologist, and educator, George Jarvis Brush and that of his son-in-law, also a geologist, Louis Valentine Pirsson. The collection will be of interest to those interested in the study of mineralogy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are also materials relating to scientific education, especially at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, and to the position of science in America. In addition, there are materials relating to the Civil War and the political turmoil of that period, as well as personal and family papers relating to the Brush, Pirsson, and James Dwight Dana families.

The collection is divided into two series, "Correspondence" and "Special Files." The Correspondence series consists of the correspondence of the following six individuals: George Jarvis Brush, Harriet Silliman (Trumbull) Brush, Sarah Jarvis (Brush) McLaughlin, Eliza Trumbull (Brush) Pirsson, Louis Valentine Pirsson, and Jane Lathrop Trumbull.
The largest group of correspondence is that of George Jarvis Brush. Among the correspondents found in this section are many prominent European and American scientists and American educators including: William Henry Brewer (25 items), Charles Frederick Chandler (22 items), Josiah P. Cooke, Jr. (59 items), James Dwight Dana (39 items), Charles W. Eliot (49 items), Frederick Augustus Genth (42 items), Joseph Henry (15 items), Clarence King (11 items), Franz von Kobell (8 items), William Theodore Roepper (59 items), John Lawrence Smith (60 items), Joseph Wharton (77 items), and Josiah Dwight Whitney (43 items). Most of the correspondence in this section concerns the identification, exchange, and purchase of mineral specimens. There is, however, correspondence, notably with Timothy Dwight, on the administration of the Sheffield Scientific School and Yale University. In addition, there are letters from Thomas Egleston and Charles W. Eliot about scientific education in America.

The correspondence of Louis Valentine Pirsson, Brush's son-in-law, is also largely scientific, much of it relating to Pirsson's work on the geology of Montana and other western states. Among the important correspondents are Whitman Cross (57 items), Henry Stephens Washington (19 items), and Walter Harvey Weed (64 items).

The correspondence of Brush's wife, Harriet Silliman (Trumbull) Brush, includes 117 letters from Henrietta Francis Dana, wife of James Dwight Dana, and 45 letters from Elizabeth Sarah Grimes, wife of Iowa governor, James W. Grimes. There are also 13 letters from Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. A recurrent topic in Mrs. Brush's correspondence is the Civil War and the political troubles of this period.

This series also includes the correspondence of Jane Lathrop Trumbull (sister of Mrs. Brush), Eliza Trumbull (Brush) Pirsson, Sarah Jarvis (Brush) McLaughlin, and Jane Lathrop Trumbull. Of special interest are Brush's lectures and notes on geology and L.V. Pirsson's diary of his trip to the International Geological Conference held in 1897 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The diary also includes Pirsson's geological observations made on several excursions in Norway and Russia. In addition, there is a manuscript by Pirsson and W.H. Weed on the geology of the Highwood Mountains of Montana and a manuscript of an unpublished textbook on geology by Pirsson. There are also a few photographs of the two men, some biographical materials, and a folder of genealogical materials on the Brush and Trumbull families.


  • 1834-1960
  • Majority of material found within 1834 - 1939


Conditions Governing Access

The scrapbooks in this collection have been microfilmed. Patrons must use HM 143 instead of originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Scrapbooks of Sarah Jarvis Brush McLaughlin and Edward Tompkins McLaughlin are available on microfilm (170 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM 143.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Louis V. Pirsson, 1943-1950.


Arranged in two series: I. Correspondence. II. Special Files.


4 Linear Feet (10 boxes, 1 folio)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Correspondence, writings, lectures, notes, printed material, and other papers, principally of George Jarvis Brush (1831-1912), mineralogist, geologist, and educator; and of his son-in-law, Louis Valentine Pirsson (1860-1919), also a geologist. There are also papers of Brush's wife, Harriet Silliman Trumbull Brush and of other family members. A good deal of the papers are scientific in nature, with some relating to the early history of the Yale Sheffield Scientific School. Important correspondents include William H. Brewer, Charles F. Chandler, Josiah P. Cooke, Whitman Cross, James Dwight Dana, Timothy Dwight, Charles W. Eliot, Joseph Henry, Lyman Trumbull, Joseph Wharton, and Josiah Dwight Whitney.

Biographical / Historical

George Jarvis Brush, mineralogist and head of Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, was born on December 15, 1831, the son of Jarvis and Sarah Brush, in Brooklyn, New York. In 1835, the Brush family moved to Danbury, Connecticut, where they resided for six years, only to return to Brooklyn in 1841.

When Brush was fifteen, he attended a private school in West Cornwall, Connecticut headed by Theodore S. Gold. Although he only attended the school for six months, Gold aroused his interest in natural science. After leaving school, Brush was employed by a New York mercantile house where he worked for two years until a serious illness in 1848 prompted him to leave business and consider farming for a career. In order to prepare himself for this new career, Brush entered Yale College in 1848 enrolling in the School of Applied Chemistry. He attended lectures in agricultural and practical chemistry given by John Pitkin Norton and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. Two years later he became an assistant to Benjamin Silliman, Jr., who was teaching in the medical department of Louisville University, a position Brush held until 1852. As a result of his prolonged absence from New Haven, Brush was required to take special examinations. Nevertheless he graduated with the first class of the new Yale Scientific School, receiving a Ph.D. in 1852. Later, under Brush's guidance and leadership, this department became the Sheffield Scientific School.

After graduation, Brush spent a year (1852-1853) at the University of Virginia as an assistant in chemistry. It was here that Brush became associated with the chemist and mineralogist, John Lawrence Smith. Together they worked on a series of mineralogical experiments, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Science. Brush spent the summer of 1853 as an assistant in charge of the department of mineralogy at the Crystal Palace of the International Exposition in New York, but in the fall he sailed for Germany where he continued his studies under Liebig, von Kobell, and Pettenkoffer, and also studied at the mining school at Freiberg, Saxony.

In 1855, Brush was appointed professor of metallurgy at the Sheffield Scientific School. To prepare himself for this position, he studied during the year of 1856 at the Royal School of Mines in London and visited mines and smelting works in Great Britain and on the continent. The following year he assumed his duties at Yale. In 1864 his position was expanded to include mineralogy and by 1871 Brush was devoting himself exclusively to mineralogy, his major field of interest.

Brush's career as a scientist was closely related to the development of the Sheffield Scientific School, of which he became president in 1872. In fact, much of his time was devoted to the administration of the school thus forcing him to gradually abandon his teaching duties. By the end of the 1870's, he had given up laboratory instruction; by 1884, lectures as well. He continued as the director of the Sheffield Scientific School until 1898. Thereafter, he served variously as secretary, treasurer and president of the Board of Trustees of the school until his death on February 6, 1912.

Although Brush's scientific work was ultimately restricted by his administrative duties, he nevertheless made several important contributions to the study of mineralogy. His studies with J. Lawrence Smith have already been mentioned. His Manual of Determinative Mineralogy, published in 1874, was a clear and concise summary of blowpipe methods and principles and included determinative tables adapted from those of von Kobell. The book went through several editions. In addition, Brush left to the Sheffield Scientific School an extremely complete and well-catalogued collection of mineral specimens numbering some 15,000 items.

Brush married Harriet Silliman Trumbull in 1864. They had three daughters: Sarah Jarvis, Bertha De Forest, and Eliza Trumbull. His wife died in 1910, and Brush two years later.


Louis Valentine Pirsson, geologist and Yale professor, was born November 3, 1860 to Francis Morris and Louisa (Butt) Pirsson. He saw little of his natural parents for his mother died when he was four and his father was frequently away. At the age of nine, Pirsson became the ward of Thomas Lord of New York, who placed him with the family of the Reverend William J. Blain on a farm near Amsterdam, New York. Young Pirsson received his early education from Blain and displayed an interest in natural history. When he was sixteen, he went to the Amenia Academy in Dutchess County, New York, and in 1879 he entered the Sheffield Scientific School from which he graduated with honors in 1882.

In 1889, through the help of George Jarvis Brush, Pirsson became a field assistant of the United States Geological Survey party under Arnold Hague then studying Yellowstone Park. This experience stimulated his interest in igneous geology, a subject he further studied in Heidelberg and in Paris.

In 1892 Brush invited Pirsson to teach mineralogy and lithology at Yale and, the following year, he gave the first graduate course in petrology at Yale. Pirsson became an assistant professor in 1894 and professor of physical geology in 1897. In addition, he held many administrative positions in the Sheffield Scientific School, was an associate editor of the American Journal of Science from 1899 until his death in 1919, and was the author of many works on geology, including Rocks and Rock Minerals (1908) and Textbook of Geology (1915).

Pirsson married Brush's oldest daughter, Eliza Trumbull Brush, in 1902.
Guide to the George Jarvis Brush Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Andrew Patterson
April 1972
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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