Skip to main content

Walter A. Lawrance papers

Identifier: MC099
Walter Lawrance papers
Walter Lawrance papers

Scope and Content Note

The collection documents the efforts of Walter Lawrance to identify, track, and resolve pollution-related problems impacting the Androscoggin River from Gorham, New Hampshire to Lewiston, Maine. The collection is composed of the reports Lawrance made of his annual studies of the river's odor and other qualities beginning in 1943 and continuing through 1977. These reports were based on water samples taken daily from late spring to early fall from hundreds of sampling stations. This work was completed by Lawrance along with several Bates College student assistants and colleagues from the mills and the College.

Also included are the annual reports of his research projects, undertaken from 1946 to 1959 with representatives from the three major paper companies located along the river and done under the auspices of the National Council for Stream Improvement. These projects focused on means of controlling and resolving water pollution, including investigating the river's flow, using sodium nitrate to replenish the water's oxygen, and filtering the waste water. Their encouragement, along with Federal pollution controls, ultimately led the paper companies to adopt the Kraft method for paper production, which resulted in significantly less pollution and a vastly improved river.

The collection also includes Lawrance's related research material, including material documenting similar work he did to improve the Presumpscot River. There is also material about civil defense against biological and chemical weapons, an area in which Lawrance maintained expertise, and a sizable collection of reference material related to water pollution.


  • 1918-1983, undated


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

The collection is the physical property of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library. Bates College holds literary rights only for material created by College personnel working on official behalf of the College, or for material which was given to the College with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining permission from rights holders for publication or other purposes that exceed fair use.

Historical Note

Walter Albert Lawrance was born in Pimlico Herts, England on September 4, 1894. He grew up in Canada, receiving an A.B. and A.M. from McMaster University in 1916 and 1919 respectively, and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1921. In 1916, he worked for the Aetna Chemical Company, and from 1920 to 1921, he served as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at McMaster. In 1921, he joined the Department of Chemistry at Bates College, where he remained as Stanley Professor of Chemistry until his retirement in 1965.

Lawrance became a consultant for the State of Maine in 1943 following the first of several lawsuits brought by the state against the International Paper Company in Jay, Maine, the Oxford Paper Company in Rumford, Maine, and the Brown Company in New Hampshire. The state charged that the companies' use of the river to discharge sulfite waste liquor, a by-product of wood pulping process, had resulted in such severe pollution that the river smelled of rotten eggs and caused buildings nearby it to discolor. Lawrance was given the responsibility of developing anti-pollution standards for the river, and thus initiated his annual study of the river's odor and other qualities.

In 1947, the Maine Supreme Court appointed him Rivermaster (later called Administrator) of the Androscoggin River. In this position, Lawrance had the power to restrict not only the amount of waste discharged into the river by the mills, but also their overall production, as previous measures had failed to reduce pollution significantly. In this role, Lawrance worked collaboratively with researchers from each company to determine other means of controlling the problem, including adjusting the water temperature and flow. The group formally became the Androscoggin River Technical Committee in 1948, composed of Lawrance as Chair and two representatives from each of the three paper companies. In 1953, the Committee recommended and the companies adopted pollution standards vastly more stringent than those imposed by the State, and yet the river continued to be one of the most polluted in the country.

A turning point for the river came in 1967 when the International Paper Company converted to the Kraft method of producing paper with Lawrance's encouragement. A German process, this technology allows for the strong waste materials to be burned and only weaker waste to be discharged into the river. The other companies converted by 1977. By this point, voluntary actions, as well as clean-up mandated by Federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act, had resulted in a significantly improved river, so much so that the Androscoggin River Committee was officially disbanded at the end of 1977. Early the following year, the Maine Supreme Court ended the position of Rivermaster, and Lawrance officially retired from his duties. He died in 1987.


8.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The collection contains material related to Walter A. Lawrance's work as a consultant (1943-1946) and as Rivermaster (1947-1978) of the Androscoggin. Lawrance, a professor of Chemistry at Bates College, had the legal authority to control the amount of pollution discharged into the river by the three major paper mills located along it. Included are his annual studies of the river's odor and other qualities, as well as research projects aimed at limiting waste in paper production and removing pollution from the river. Some related correspondence, research and reference material are also available.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized into four series: I. Androscoggin River (including Lawrance's River Studies); II. Correspondence and Research; III. Other Rivers; and IV. Reference Material.

Acquisition and Custody Information

Transferred from the Carpenter Archives, April 2007. Accession No.: 07-019.

Related Material

Androscoggin River oral history collection, Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library, Bates College.

Processing Information

Processed by Kat Stefko, April 2007.

Finding aid updated by Pat Webber, 2023.

Guide to the Walter A. Lawrance papers, 1918-1983, undated
Edited Full Draft
Kat Stefko
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in: English
Edition statement

Repository Details

Part of the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library Repository

70 Campus Avenue
Lewiston Maine 04240 United States of America