Mary Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell

(22 May 1917 – 18 June 2005)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU)  has cataloged 29 vascular plant specimens and 16 mycological specimens collected by Mary Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell, who usually signed herbarium specimens as “Gwen Burton.” Ms. Burton collected around Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina in 1939, and at the Highland Biological Station in Macon County, North Carolina in 1940. As NCU’s collections continue to be cataloged, it is likely we will find more specimens she collected.

Mary Gwendolyn Burton was born on 22 May, 1917 in Monetta, Saluda County, South Carolina.  Her father, DeWitt Talmadge Burton, was a graduate of Orangeburg Academy, while her mother, Fawny Vester Howell, was a graduate of Leesville College.2  “Gwen” graduated from Ridge Spring High School in 1934, then earned an A.B. from Lander College in Greenwood, South Carolina in 1938.3

Ms. Burton arrived in Chapel Hill as a graduate student in the Botany Department in 1938.  “[She] thought the world of some of the UNC professors who mentored her in the typically male-dominated field… They would hike through the mountains and study the different plants and mushrooms and fungi.  I think for her it was an idyllic period when she was in school back in the ‘30’s,” said her son.1  Gwendolyn Burton studied mycology with Dr. William Chambers Coker and Dr. John Nathaniel Couch and graduated with a Masters in 1940; the title of her thesis was “Oogenesis and fertilization in Pythiopsis intermedia.”

Ms. Burton became a Research Associate in the Department of Plant Pathology Athens at the University of Georgia in 1940. Her frequent collaborator and co-author at UGA was Julian Howell Miller (1890-1961).

Mary Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell
photo from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (1)

In Athens, Ms. Burton met Harmon W. Caldwell, Ph.D., President of the University of Georgia.  They were married in December 1944, and he continued to serve as UGA’s president until 1948.  The Carolina Alumni Review noted, “Mrs. Harmon W. Caldwell (MA ’40) may have conflicting loyalties next September 27 when Carolina and Georgia play football in Chapel Hill… Dr. Caldwell became President of Georgia in 1935, becoming at 36 years of age one of the youngest university presidents in the country.”4  The Caldwells moved to Atlanta, Georgia and Harmon Caldwell served as the chancellor of the Georgia University System from 1949 until 1964.  He died in 1977.1   Together they had two children, Harmon W. Caldwell, Jr. and Edea M. Caldwell.

“She never let her subscriptions to scientific journals lapse…she filled her garden with unusual plants.”1

Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell died of heart failure at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta on 18 June, 2005.  She is buried in the Caldwell-Burton Family Cemetery in Mount Carmel, Meriwether County, Georgia.5

The University of Georgia offers the Caldwell Plant Pathology Graduate Scholarship in honor of Gwendolyn Burton Caldwell.


Miller, J.H. and Gwendolyn Burton (1942)  Georgia Pyrenomycetes, III.  Mycologia 34(1):  1-7.

Miller, Julian H. and M. Gwendolyn Burton (1943)  Studies in some Venezuelan Ascomycetes collected by C.E. Chardon and A.A. Muller.  Mycologia 35(1):  83-94.

Miller, Julian H. and M. Gwendolyn Burton (1943)  Study of Bagnisiopsis species on the Melastomataceae.  Mycologia 35(3):  312-334.

Miller, Julian Howell, M. Gwendolyn Burton and Troy Manning (1945)  A statistical study of the relations between flax fiber numbers and diameters and sizes of stems.  Journ. Agr. Res. 70:  269-281.


1.       Crenshaw, Holly (2005)  Obituary:  Gwendolyn Caldwell, 88, loved to learn.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wednesday, 22 June 2005.

2.      Alumni Record for Mary Gwendolyn Burton, filed September 15, 1938, Alumni Office, South Building, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

3.      Alumni Records, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

4.      The Alumni Review, February 1947.  35(5):  180.  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

5.      Find A Grave Memorial #27667741.

Information compiled by Carol Ann McCormick,Curatrix, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium,
with assistance from Meredith Tozzer, Alumni Records, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Nelson Morgan of the Hargrett Library at the University of Georgia