William Henry Over was a natural historian who lived in Vermillion from 1913 to 1956. While in Vermillion, he served first as the Assistant Curator and then full Curator for the University Museum. He studied numerous subjects relating to the natural world, including botany; however, until recently, little was known about Over’s work with plants. In 2009, a tattered box was found in the University Herbarium, and this box contained numerous documents relevant to Over’s botanical pursuits. As a part of an undergraduate Honors Thesis, a student worker from Archives & Special Collections researched the documents’ historical context and used this research to more fully understand Over’s work with the plants of South Dakota.
While Over had some difficulty advancing botany in South Dakota the way he originally planned, he still made significant contributions to the field. He established the University Herbarium in 1913, which is still in use today. Also, Over was the first botanist in 20th century South Dakota to develop a manual of the entire state’s flora, and other botanists have since used Over’s work as a tool to understand the state’s flora. Over was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University in 1936, and he was able to publish Wild Flowers of South Dakota in 1942 as a way to encourage both children and adults to appreciate the beauty of plants.
One of Over’s most lasting contributions to botany in South Dakota was the fact that he passionately encouraged others to appreciate the state’s botanical diversity and beauty.
For more information, please visit W.H. Over and the Flora of South Dakota. To view the documents from the W.H. Over Collection in person, please contact the USD Archives & Special Collections.