Olmsted, Frederick Law (1822–1902)

By: Lewis W. Newton

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 1, 1995

Frederick Law Olmsted, noted landscape architect and writer of travel books, son of John Olmsted, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 26, 1822. Prevented by an eye infection from entering college, he studied surveying for two years and attended scientific lectures at Yale. He worked for a time with an importing firm in New York and from 1844 to 1850 engaged in scientific farming. During this period he traveled extensively in New England, Canada, China, and Europe and wrote his first book, Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (1852). Interested in slave economy and commissioned to write articles for the New York Times, Olmsted made extensive tours throughout the South from 1852 to 1857. One of the products of this travel was A Journey through Texas (1857). On his route via Natchitoches down the Old San Antonio Road, through the German settlements, down to the coastal prairie towns, through San Antonio, Eagle Pass, Houston, and Liberty, Olmsted commented on all phases of town and country life in Texas.

Olmsted was a fervent opponent of slavery, and his journeys through Texas and the other slave states confirmed his deep-seated antipathy to forced servitude and to the South in general. Comparing the conditions he saw in the South with those of his native New England, he argued that because of the costs of maintaining slaves in bondage, free labor was ultimately cheaper than slave labor. He also argued that the practice of slavery was leading the Southern economy to ruin. He expounded on these views in The Cotton Kingdom, which included many of his previous writings on the South, among them his travelogue on Texas. The book, published in the fall of 1861, six months after the Civil War had begun, helped to galvanize antislavery sentiment in the North. From 1857 to 1895 Olmsted was engaged in landscape architecture, superintending Central Park and designing Riverside Park in New York as well as other parks and university campuses. He died on August 28, 1902.

Broadus Mitchell, Frederick Law Olmsted: A Critic of the Old South (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1924; rpt., New York: Russell & Russell, 1968). Frederick Law Olmsted, The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, ed. Charles Capen McLaughlin (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977-). Laura Wood Roper, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the West Texas Free-Soil Movement," American Historical Review 56 (October 1950). Laura Wood Roper, FLO: A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973). Elizabeth Stevenson, Park Maker: A Life of Frederick Law Olmsted (New York: Macmillan, 1977).


  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel

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

Lewis W. Newton, “Olmsted, Frederick Law,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/olmsted-frederick-law.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995