Women and Nature

In 2020, the Lloyd Library participated in the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage by exhibiting the contributions of women to the advancement of the study of nature through scholarship and art. The earliest works from that exhibition are featured here.

The study of plants and flowers was long considered a safe subject for women and girls. Combining botany with art allowed women to observe and document the world of plants in a variety of ways. Other areas of natural history, such as entomology and ornithology, were also open to women with the right training and support. Consequently, women are well represented in the Lloyd’s collections.

While a safe subject, nature-based work came with obstacles for women. Even when their works were published, they were often attributed to simply “a lady” or “Mrs.” with a husband’s name attached. Women and Nature featured women throughout the last three hundred years who refused to stay behind artificial barriers imposed by men and society as they studied the natural world and contributed their own written and visual observations.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Merian developed an interest in insects as a child in Germany, and incorporated them in her flower and plant paintings by age 13. Her voyage to Suriname in 1699 resulted in her 1705 masterpiece, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, but many years before that she published the engravings shown here, depicting caterpillars on the plants they eat, along with their pupae, cocoons, and the resultant moths or butterflies.

Scroll through selected plates from Merian's Erucarum Ortus, Alimentum et Paradoxa Metamorphosis, published in 1718. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

 

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Elizabeth Albin

Elizabeth Albin was the daughter of English naturalist and illustrator, Eleazar Albin. Very little is known about Eleazar, and even less about Elizabeth. In the note to his readers Eleazar states, “As for the paintings, they are all done from life, with the Exactness I could draw with my own hand, or my daughters, whom I have taught to draw and paint after the life.” Plates by Eleazar are signed “E. Albin,” and plates by Elizabeth are signed “Eliz. Albin.”

Images below from A Natural History of Birds by Eleazar Albin (1690-1759) published, 1731-1738. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1758)

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Scotland to a wealthy merchant and received training in art. After her husband Alexander, a physician, landed in debtor’s prison, she moved to Chelsea and supported herself illustrating a reference book of New World plants. She visited her husband in prison, bringing along her illustrations, which he identified and described. Blackwell published weekly installments of A Curious Herbal, personally engraving the plates and hand-coloring the printed illustrations. In 1750, she was contracted to create an expanded, six-volume Latin edition of A Curious Herbal entitled Herbarium Blackwellianum.

Scroll through selected plates from Blackwell's Herbarium Blackwellianum, published from 1750 through 1773. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

 

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Anna Maria Hussey (1805-1853)

As the wife of a well-connected astronomer and neighbor to Charles Darwin, Hussey was part of the scientific social circles of early 19th century Britain. She and her sister Frances Reed developed an interest in fungi from an artistic point of view, and together they produced this volume containing 90 plates with descriptions and observations.

Images below from Illustrations of British Mycology : Containing Figures and Descriptions of the Funguses of Interest and Novelty Indigenous to Britain, published in 1847. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

Sarah Price (dates unknown)

Price lived in the small village of Bitterly in Shropshire, England, and beautifully documented the specimens “which make meadow, hill, and valley gay by their abundance.” She funded her work with the help of paying subscribers, including eminent botanists William Jackson Hooker and Mordecai Cubitt Cooke.

Illustrations of the Fungi of Our Fields and Woods : Drawn from Natural Specimens, published 1864-1865. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

 

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Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894)

Cooper, the daughter of novelist James Fenimore Cooper, wrote and illustrated this account of rural life in New York. She has been praised for her accuracy and attention to detail and is thought to have influenced Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau.

Images below from Rural Hours, published in 1851.  Click here to access the fully digitized book.

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901)


Primarily a novelist and magazine editor, Yonge published around 160 works in her lifetime. She was admired by Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Anthony Trollope. The text of this book is certainly written by Yonge, but it is unclear who made the illustrations.

The Instructive Picture Book, or, Lessons from the Vegetable World, published in 1858. Click here to access the fully digitized book.

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Augusta Innes Withers (1792-1877)
Sarah Anne Drake (1803-1857)
Jane Edwards (unknown dates)

The Orchidaceae of Mexico & Guatemala

This massive book, considered to be the finest, largest botanical book ever produced with lithographic plates, is one of 125 copies produced. Fewer than 55 are known to survive intact. The author and lithographer were men, but 38 of the 40 images were originally watercolor paintings by three women, Augusta Innes Withers, Sarah Anne Drake, and Jane Edwards.

Withers (1792-1877) was “Flower Painter in Ordinary” to Queen Adelaide and Queen Victoria. Drake (1803-1857) learned to paint orchids while working as a governess in the home of orchidologist John Lindley. They both contributed illustrations to many important botanical works. Nothing is known of Edwards.

The Orchidaceae of Mexico & Guatemala by James Bateman (1811-1897) published, 1837-1843. Click here to access the fully digitized book.