Aven Nelson was born in Iowa in 1859. But spent much of his younger life in Missouri where he attended Kirksville State Normal School. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1883 and a Master’s degree in 1887. However, Aven Nelson pursued even further education later in his life and added a Master’s of Science degree for Drury College in 1890 and a Master’s of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1892.
Aven Nelson came to Laramie, WY in 1887 to become an English Professor. However, there was a need for a biology professor at the time and he was appointed to that role. After this Aven Nelson taught classes like physical geography, economic botany, and animal physiology. In 1891, he began teaching botany and horticulture classes that soon became his true passion.
Aven Nelson was a professor for 55 years. He was well known for being invested in his teaching and his students. “Botany students were never just students to Professor Nelson. Let any student evince interest in his field, and he or she gained instant entry to a charmed circle” (Williams, 1984). Students often accompanied Nelson in the field and some, such as Leslie Goodding, became known for their own work in botany!
As Aven Nelson was becoming a well-known botanist he was doing work around Laramie, WY and in the Red Desert region. In 1893, Aven Nelson co-founded the Rocky Mountain Herbarium. In 1896 he published his work on 1,176 plant species of Wyoming titled, “First Report of the Flora of Wyoming”. Nelson continued his research into the northern region of Wyoming through his expeditions in Yellowstone National Park. Later, in 1904, Aven Nelson completed his Ph.D. from the University of Denver. This degree was “awarded in part because of his previously published botany articles, and because that university’s officials were eager to honor him as the preeminent botanist of the Rocky Mountain region” (Williams, 1984).
Aven Nelson continued his legacy into the 1920s as he toured to colleges and other countries giving talks on botany. He taught science camps in Laramie and accompanied others on plant collection efforts in Colorado, Utah, and Alaska. Aven Nelson remained in the field as much as possible. In 1952, at age 93, he passed away. He is buried in Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie and the Aven Nelson building stands in honor of him and his legacy at the western edge of the UW campus.
Original Version: Photograph of Aven Nelson, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Aven Nelson Collection, Accession Number 400013, Box 17, Folder 7, Negative Number 21216
Original Photograph: Photograph of Aven Nelson expedition 1899, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Photofile: National Parks - Yellowstone, Aven Nelson Expedition
Photo File: Nelson, Aven, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center
Van Pelt, L. (2018, October 23). Aven Nelson, botanist and president of the University of Wyoming. WyoHistory.org. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/aven-nelson-botanist-and-president-university-wyoming
Williams, R. L. (1984). Aven Nelson of Wyoming. Colorado Associated University Press.