William Whitman Bailey (1843-1914), professor of botany, was born on February 22, 1843 at West Point, where his father, Jacob Bailey, was professor of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. At the age of nine young Bailey had a miraculous escape from a fire on the steamer Henry Clay in which his mother and sister lost their lives. He received his early education at the school for officers’ children at West Point with Robert E. Lee, Jr. and future Admiral Mahan as classmates. When his father died in 1857, he moved to Providence where an uncle lived. There he entered the University Grammar School and boarded with associate principal Merrick Lyon. He entered Brown with the Class of 1864, became a private in the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers, and did not finish college. He was assistant in chemistry at Brown in 1865 and at M.I.T. in 1866. While working at M.I.T. in 1867, Bailey heard that Clarence King, heading the U. S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, was looking for a botanist to join the expedition. Bailey wrote to noted botanist and family friend Asa Gray, and on the basis of his reply applied for and got the job. Gray had replied, “Mr. King desires a young man who shall at the same time be an accomplished botanist. As the two things are incompatible I think you’ll do as well as another.” Bailey left the expedition because of ill health in 1868 and returned to Providence, where he served as Deputy Secretary of State under John R. Bartlett and assistant librarian at the Providence Athenaeum. In 1871 he went to New York to have a try at journalism. He taught botany at private schools in Providence from 1872 to 1877. In 1875 a new suggestion from Asa Gray was that Bailey should attend the Summer School of Botany at Harvard, which he did for three summers.
In the spring of 1877, at the suggestion of Professor William Carey Poland, he applied to President Robinson for permission to start a private class in botany at the University. This first botanical class was a success. Bailey wrote, “At the end of the season I was voted thirty dollars, and was tempted to go on by the title of instructor and the advanced pay of fifty dollars for the season of 1878.” He continued to teach until 1906, having been appointed professor of botany in 1881. Brown awarded him a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1873 and a Master of Arts in 1883. He was a talented artist of botanical subjects which he used in his classes. He wrote poetry, including some verse for Psi Upsilon, the fraternity of which he was a loyal member. He enjoyed many visits to West Point, his early home. His publications included Botanical Collectors’ Handbook (1881), Botanical Note-book (1894-97), Among Rhode Island Wild Flowers (1895 and 1896), New England Wild Flowers (1895), and Botanizing (1899). When he retired because of illness in 1906, he was the first Brown professor to have a Carnegie pension. He died on February 22, 1914, and was allowed to be buried near his father in the Academy grounds at West Point. His daughter, Margaret Emerson Bailey, wrote a novel, Goodby, Proud World, based on family experiences.