Attic Days

Attic Days in Washington, 1889-1893

David Fairchild in early years
Dr. David Fairchild in early years. Books were a shared passion of the "boys" in the Attic.  With scientific study their main pastime day and night, book buying was their only extravagance. (Attic Days, unpublished manuscript)
Educating growers
Educating growers and horticulturalists on the new science being done on plant diseases was one of the primary goals of the Section of Vegetable Pathology. Date unknown.
Dr. Beverly T. Galloway
Dr. Beverly T. Galloway, head of the Section of Vegetable Pathology, "who was then my Chief but who treated me as if I were his son, was engaged on the problem of protecting American grapes from the Black Rot disease." (The World Grows Round My Door, p. 92)

by Janet Mosely

" . . .the romance of those days was in the Attic."

Before David Fairchild met Barbour Lathrop on the stormy 1893 voyage to Naples Zoological Station and became a plant explorer, he worked for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Fairchild joined the USDA in 1889 at the invitation of Dr. Beverly T. Galloway, arriving in Washington, D. C., at just 19 year of age. In the Fairchild Archive are his unpublished reminiscences of that first job, titled Attic Days in Washington.

Galloway was chief of the USDA's newly formed Section of Vegetable Pathology. He and his young assistants were studying plant diseases which adversely affected American agriculture. Their offices and laboratory were in the attic of an imposing building just south of Pennsylvania Avenue.

"There was a suspicion that every new office which was established in the Department, if it stood any chance of becoming anything, must make its debut in the Attic."

Dr. Fairchild joined the other scientists in their cramped, uncomfortable quarters and began his life's work as a plant scientist. "It was hot in that attic. Boiling hot. I have seen it over a hundred often and there were NO FANS in those days. We sweltered simply.But what difference if we did, we were leading lives of the most fascinating interest. Everything we touched then was new, new diseases everywhere, discoveries every day that made our world of the attic so romantic."

Those were the first days of scientific study into plant diseases that focused on fungi and microscopic parasites. In this work was born David Fairchild's lifelong fascinationa with the world as seen through a microscope.  "It was in this world of microscopic things that the attic dealt and I have not gotten over the impression that there is nothing which broadens more the horizon of human knowledge than that life among the water animals and the streaming protoplasm and the green chlorophyll granules. . . "

Dr. Fairchild formed strong, lasting relationships with his fellow scientists. He met Walter T. Swingle, who studied citrus and inspired him to improve his language skills. The two men would remain colleagues and friends for the rest of their lives. There was also Merton Waite, who studied Bartlett pear diseases, and Theodore Holm, "the European among us," who couldn't be drawn away from his studies of the microscopic makeup of sedges. Erwin Smith conducted experiments on the devastating peach yellows. Despite differing personalities and close working conditions, Dr. Fairchild considered it "significant that in that boiling hot attic, a handful of youngsters came to so thoroughly understand each other." He reminisced "that the most remarkable thing about this attic crowd was the fact that they have hung together now for thirty years and today when they come together understand each other's faults as easily as they did in those attic days of the early nineties."

In reading those unpublished reminiscences, it is apparent how David Fairchild treasured the memories of those Attic Days. He was immersed in work he loved, making important new discoveries and sharing it with like-minded colleagues. Those days would come to an end when he left to study under the Smithsonian's auspices in Naples. But the romance of those days in the Attic would never leave him.

 All quotes are from Attic Days in Washington, unpublished manuscript, 1922, unless otherwise noted.


 Spraying device  Attic 'boys'  Erwin F. Smith
 Fairchild was proud of the improvements he and Galloway made to the spraying device pictured here. This was the first successful experiment in controlling the Black Rot which was threatening the U. S. grape industry. (Attic Days, unpublished manuscript)  The "boys" as they appeared with the exception of Smith, Pierce and Miss Southworth, 1893. Clockwise from upper left hand corner: Joseph James, Theodore Holm, Merton B. Waite, Howard P. Dorsett, Walter T. Swingle, Beverly T. Galloway, David G. Fairchild.  Erwin F. Smith in the old laboratory, at the USDA Section of Vegetable Pathology.


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