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Edwin Butterworth Mains
LSA Minutes

1890 - 1968

Edwin B. Mains was the son of Benjamin W. and Mary Ann (Butterworth) Mains, and was born in the little town of Coldwater, in Branch county, Michigan. He started his undergraduate education in 1909 at what is now Michigan State University, but after two years transferred to The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where in 1916, he received the Ph.D. degree in botany. His thesis dealt with the parasite-host relationships in the rust-fungi. His first professional position was at Purdue University in the Agricultural Experiment Station as an assistant botanist (1916-17). He married Mary Esther Elder in August of 1917. He remained at Purdue until 1930, when, at the death of Professor Calvin Henry Kauffman, he returned to The University of Michigan as professor of botany, and where in 1931, he was appointed director of the University Herbarium. He retired from both these positions in 1960.

Professor Mains was a quiet systematic individual who believed in the student as an individual. This was the key to his success in working with graduate students, the group with whom he was most concerned. He was never too busy to discuss a personal or professional problem with one of his student.

In his professional career he was most concerned with investigations on plant rusts (Uredinales) and in training students in research in this area. However, he participated in undergraduate teaching, especially in World War II days, and was instrumental, in collaboration with Professor E. U. Clover, in developing a course for the non-botanist long known as "Bot. 2". His graduate students are scattered in positions across the country and have done much to influence the development of our knowledge of the fungi in North America. In Mains' mind there was no distinction between the experimental and the descriptive approach to a study of the fungi -- you studied the organism, and used such techniques as were current or you developed your own. His students would MT all been classified, by modern terminology, as experimentalists for that as the point of their introduction to the fungi. It was his belief that one as not competent to classify organisms until he had experience in handling them, growing them, and knowing how they behaved as organisms. In this he limed the principles taught by C. H. Kauffman, under whom he took his PhD.

Like Kauffman, his major works were taxonomic. At Purdue, though engage the genetics of wheat resistance to leaf rust, he was a major contributor othe "Manual of the Rusts in the United States and Canada". At The University of Michigan he attempted to pursue studies on resistant strains of native slants to the rusts occurring on them, but the economic conditions of the 30's followed by World War II made it impossible for him to keep the necessary cultures going at the University's Botanical Garden. Consequently his efforts are diverted to other projects, mainly to the parasites of insects, and to graphic studies of selected groups of fungi such as the Geoglossaceae. As director of the Herbarium he devoted considerable attention to the flora of change in its broadest sense -- fungi, mosses and liverworts, as well as vascular plants, color photography, and its application to teaching mycology. Many of his photographs have been exhibited on numerous occasions.

Mains was a man who disliked controversy for its own sake, because he could see nothing constructive in it. He preferred the quiet steady persevering approach which posed questions and sought answers. Thus it was no accident that the University Herbarium, under his directorship developed from a position of obscurity to one of international prominence in slightly less than thirty years. This same attitude, however, in evaluating the financial and economic trends of the last fifteen years, caused him to be very pessimistic in regard to the future quality of education in this country.

Although he had many projects upon which he planned to work after his retirement, ill health, both of Mrs. Mains and himself, provented these from being realized. He spent the period of his retirement at his home in Ann Arbor, and on December 23, 1968, passed away as the result of a heart attack. He is survived by Mrs. Mains.

Alexander H. Smith