This collection documents Cowan's career as a systematic botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, USNM, and NMNH. Included are incoming and outgoing correspondence
concerning the identification of specimens, the preparation of scientific papers and monographs, and professional activities; a subject file mostly documenting his research;
and files relating to his work as Secretary of the National Committee of the International Botanical Congress, 1969.
For additional materials documenting Cowan's botanical research and administrative career at NMNH, see Record Units 155, 197, and 9501.
Richard Sumner Cowan (1921-1997), a systematic botanist specializing in neotropical flora, received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952. From 1952 to 1957, he
served as Assistant Curator at the New York Botanical Garden. Cowan joined the United States National Museum (USNM) in 1957 when he was appointed Associate Curator in the
Department of Botany. In 1962, he was appointed Assistant Director of the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), and, in 1965, Director. Cowan retired from administration
in 1973 and resumed his research as a Senior Botanist at NMNH. He remained in the position until his retirement in 1985. Cowan's primary research interest is the systematics
of legumes in tropical America.