Swingle, Walter Tennyson (1871-1952) | University of Miami Finding Aids
Walter Tennyson Swingle was born the first child and only son of John Fletcher and Mary Astley Swingle, a young farm couple in Canaan Township, Wayne County, Pennsylvania on January 8, 1871. Due to a fall in property values in the Panic of 1873, the family moved to Manhattan, Kansas where Swingle grew up along with his sister Miriam.
His interest in botany started as a young boy when he was fascinated by the many different plants he saw. When nobody knew their names, he would make them up until he found out that one could look them up and he acquired a copy of Gray's Manual of Botany from Kansas State Agricultural College nearby. Through this he became proficient at systematic botany even before he had any formal education on the subject. At the age of fifteen he enrolled at Kansas State agricultural College and came to be under the tutelage of Professor William A. Kellerman, who encouraged him in his work. By 1891 Swingle had already published 21 scientific papers with Prof. Kellerman in addition to six papers on his own accord.
In 1891 Swingle was offered an appointment by Dr. Beverly T. Galloway, Chief of the Section of Vegetable Pathology of the United States Department of Agriculture, and, as soon as he started working, he was sent to do a survey of the citrus fruit growing areas of Florida, sparking a lifelong interest in citrus. In 1894, due to a harsh freeze in Florida that caused major damage to the citrus industry and to his own work in Florida, Swingle took the occasion to study the German literature in his field at the University of Bonn. There he also carried out studies in plant cell structure, proving the existence of the centrosome in plant cells, research which he continued at the Marine Zoological Institute in Naples, Italy. In the fall of 1896, due to the volume and value of his published work and research, Kansas State Agricultural College awarded him a Master of Science degree.
Swingle continued to work for the U.S.D.A. until July, 1898 when he once again took leave to study in Europe, and there met his future wife, Mlle. Lucie Romstaedt, his French tutor. They were married on June 8, 1901. It was during this time that he started his research on the date palm and was put in charge of developing the U.S. date industry. Lucie Swingle died of typhoid in 1910, and, as a result of her death, Swingle worked even harder.
In 1911, Swingle met Maude Kellerman, daughter of Prof. W.A. Kellerman when she traveled to Washington. An accomplished botanist herself, she understood his work and they were eventually married on October 2, 1915. They eventually had four children. From this point on his life was devoted to perusing a variety of interests, including citrus, dates and developing the Orientalia Collection of the Library of Congress. It was during this time that he collaborated with Michael J. Hagerty, a self-taught Chinese translator for the U.S.D.A. in translating Chinese botanical accounts, focusing on subjects that helped him in his research for the U.S.D.A.
Swingle was a valued member of many societies and clubs both in America and Europe. Included among these were the Cosmos Club, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Soci‚t‚ Nationale d'Horticulture de France to name a few. In addition he had also received a honorary doctorate from Kansas State Agricultural College in Science for his life's work.
In January, 1941 Swingle retired from the Department of Agriculture but remained as Collaborator to the Department as well as Consultant in Tropical Botany at the University of Miami, a position he held until his death in Washington, D.C. on January 19, 1952.