Today marks the birthday of Beatrix Potter who is perhaps best known as the author/ illustrator of such charming classics as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. What you may not know is that Beatrix Potter was very well known during her lifetime as a naturalist. She was highly respected as a mycologist and was one of the first people to suggest that lichens were composites of fungi and algae as opposed to autonomous organisms. In spite of the esteem in which her scientific work was held, her paper “On the Germination of Spores of Agaricineae” had to be presented to the Linnean Society by her uncle since women were barred from attending meetings.
Beatrix Potter came of age during the Victorian Era, a period of time characterized by sweeping social reforms, increasing industrialization, and widespread curiosity about the natural world. Women shared in this curiosity, and though restricted by law and custom from taking center stage, quite a few Victorian women made a name for themselves within the realm of the natural sciences. Some of these women include:
Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909) – Scottish painter and naturalist.
Mary Treat (1830-1923) – American naturalist and correspondent of Charles Darwin.
Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940) – British lepidopterist and world traveler.
Perhaps the most unusual of these sisters in science was Mary Anning (1799-1847) a British fossil collector and paleontologist. Unlike many of the other women pursuing scientific studies during the Victorian era, Mary Anning had limited financial resources and was largely self educated. Still, she was widely recognized during her lifetime for her work with fossils and she made many important finds. Her very interesting life has made its way into works of fiction including The French Lieutentant’s Woman by John Fowles and, most recently, Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracy Chevalier.
For more on Beatrix Potter, check out these titles from DCPL.
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