Bray, William L. (1865–1953)

By: Anders S. Saustrup

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

William Bray, botanist, forest ecologist, and teacher, son of William and Martha Ann (Foster) Bray, was born at Burnside, Illinois, on September 19, 1865. He graduated from Cornell University in 1891 and took his B.A. degree from Indiana University in 1893 and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1898. He also spent a year (1896–97) working under Heinrich Gustav Adolf Engler at the Royal Botanical Garden in Berlin. On December 28, 1899, he married Alice Weston; they had three children.

In 1897 Bray started his tenure at the University of Texas. There he was the first botanist, though some instruction in the subject had been offered by Frederick W. Simonds. From his early work, completed in Berlin and printed in Engler's Botanische Jahrbücher (1897), on the worldwide distribution of the Frankenia family and the comparison, suggested by Engler, of the Sonoran Desert flora with that of arid Chile and Argentina (1898), there is a clear line to Bray's Texas studies. In January 1899 the university established a School of Botany by separating botany from the School of Biology. Under Bray's direction the special assignment of the new school was to make a "Botanical Survey of the State for the purpose of studying the flora in its relation to the environmental factors of climate, rainfall, heat, geological structure and topography." A few months later Bray published his careful outline, "The Flora of Texas as a Field for Botanical Study," followed by the shorter "Some Practical Phases of the Study of Botany" (1900). His own professional works then followed in quick succession: "The Ecological Relations of the Vegetation of Western Texas" (1901), Forest Resources of Texas (1904), The Timber of the Edwards Plateau of Texas (1904), "Vegetation of the Sotol Country in Texas" (1905), Distribution and Adaptation of the Vegetation of Texas (1906), and The Mistletoe Pest in the Southwest (1910). Hoping to achieve a balance between exploitation and conservation, Bray also wrote "A Forest Working Plan for the Long Leaf Pine Lands of Texas" (1903). For the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (1904), Bray, in collaboration with W. F. Blair of Dayton, Texas, prepared an exhibit of some 130 specimens of Texas trees, which received the grand prize from the international jury. This exhibit later became the property of the university.

In 1907 Bray went to Syracuse University as professor of botany; there he was dean of the graduate school from 1918 until his retirement in 1943. Notable among his later work is Development of the Vegetation of New York State (1915). He died in Syracuse, New York, on May 25, 1953. He was a Methodist.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in America, 1950–51. Who Was Who in America, Vol.3.

  • Education
  • Educators
  • Sciences, Agriculture, and Engineering

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anders S. Saustrup, “Bray, William L.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994