Charles Francis Saunders (1859-1941)

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Charles Francis Saunders (1859-1941) was born to Quaker parents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He and his first wife, Elisabeth Hallowell Saunders (d. 1910), were both avid naturalists; Charles began publishing essays on botany as early as the 1890s. Charles and Elisabeth also collaborated on a number of publications, he as author, she as illustrator. After a honeymoon trip to California and the Southwest in 1902, the couple moved permanently to California in 1906 and settled in a Craftsman bungalow on North Lake Avenue in Pasadena, where Charles devoted himself full time to writing. He eventually published more than a dozen books inspired by California and the Southwest. Both Charles and Elisabeth were amateur photographers, and many of their photographs were used to illustrate Saunders' books.


In 1921, Saunders married Mira Barrett Culin (d. 1968) whom he had met at the Pasadena Garden Club. Also a writer, Mira shared Saunders' interest in gardens, botany, and photography. For many years, Mira published articles on Pasadena gardens, parks and trees in the Pasadena Star News, for which she took dozens of photographs.


First with Elisabeth, and then with Mira, Saunders travelled extensively throughout California and the Southwest, photographing all of the California Missions, the regions' natural wonders, Native Americans, and flora, among other things. These interests became the subjects of 18 books and numerous essays and articles Saunders published in his lifetime. Many of these books were illustrated with photographs taken by their author on his many excursions.


Saunders' collection of Native American pottery and crafts is now in the collection of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, and his botanic library is in the possession of the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens.


Source: Apostol, Jane. "Southern California Through the Lens of Charles Francis Saunders," Southern California Quarterly, volume 81 (Spring 1999): 1-88.

From the finding aid for Charles Francis Saunders and Mira Culin Saunders Collection of Photographs and Negatives ca. 1871-1965 (bulk 1910s-1920s) (The Huntington Library)