While no scientific field has ever been an easy profession for women, botany was for many centuries one of the most accessible. An interest in plants and flowers was seen as a proper womanly pursuit, and a girl or woman with access to a garden, yard, or a patch of grass had at hand many subjects for observation and experimentation. Determined female botanists financed their own expeditions, achieved degrees at universities where they were the only woman in a group of men, or leveraged their floral knowledge and artistic skills into positions at important gardens and preserves. Some of these women were the very first to study and document botanical specimens from distant locations or past eras. Even when the continued development of botanical science as a profession resulted in women’s work in the field being overlooked or dismissed as frivolous, women continued to use this ‘feminine’ interest as way to fulfill their own intellectual pursuits, educate others, and establish careers.
Drawn from the Rare Books collection’s range of materials on natural history, this exhibit provides a look at the life and works of a few of the 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century women who made the world of flora their profession and their passion.
This exhibit was created by Kathleen McCallister, Library Associate at Tulane University’s Rare Books.