On this last day of Women’s History Month, let’s remember Mollie Hanna Beattie.  Ms. Beattie was the first female director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, nominated by then-President Bill Clinton.  However, that may not be the accomplishment for which she is best remembered.

During her abbreviated time as director, Beattie successfully advocated for the reintroduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus) to Yellowstone National Park.   Her argument was based on the reintroduction’s benefits to the entire ecosystem, not solely for the sake of the wolves.  There was substantial opposition to the reintroduction.   Beattie recognized opponents’ concerns and agreed that the agency would work in partnership to resolve issues.  Her persuasiveness carried the day.  Then, she personally released some of the introduced wolves to the park. 

Perhaps less well known but critically important were her initiatives to expand habitat conservation plans and wildlife refuges throughout the country.  

Beattie only served for three years before she was compelled to resign for health reasons.   Shortly after, she died from brain cancer, gone too soon, at only 49 years old.  

In recognition of her work, one of the wolf packs in Yellowstone bears her name.   You can learn more about them here:  https://www.yellowstonewolf.org/yellowstones_wolves.php?pack_id=6

She was also honored with having her name attached to the 8 million-acre Mollie Beattie Wilderness, a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.   Check it out here:  https://www.recreation.gov/camping/gateways/12820

Can you imagine what she might have accomplished with more time?

Sources:

Obituary – https://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/29/us/mollie-beattie-49-headed-wildlife-service.html

More about the opposition and reintroduction of endangered species from a legal perspective (the footnotes make for some great reading) — https://repository.uchastings.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1508&context=hastings_environmental_law_journal

 

Continuing our series to recognize women in science who made contributions to our understanding of the natural world, today we will highlight Wanda Kirkbride Farr.  

Ms. Farr is not a household name.  Actually, she is not very well known at all.  In researching this post, I discovered very little information about her.  Perhaps there should be more given her contributions. 

Wanda Margarite Kirkbride Farr (1895-1983) Smithsonian Institution, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Farr was born in Ohio in 1895 and graduated from Ohio University in 1915 with a bachelor’s degree in biology.   She subsequently received a master’s degree in botany from Columbia University in 1918.  She was going to move on to her Ph.D. program but postponed that to become a trailing spouse at Washington University in St. Louis.  Here she worked with plant cell cultures. This work likely set her up for her major scientific breakthroughs.

For about a hundred years, scientists were baffled by how cellulose formed in the walls of plant cells.   Traditional techniques yielded no insights.  Without getting too deeply into the science, Farr applied lessons from working with plant root-hairs and algae to this problem.  The results allowed her and subsequent scientists to “see” the process happening.  She also proved that cellulose could be produced without chlorophyll, which previously had not been considered possible.  This finding and several others are now recognized as some of the fundamental knowledge of modern plant biology.  

During World War II, when women’s contributions were often under-appreciated, the American Cyanamid research team invited Farr to join their effort.   By 1956, she established her own research company, Farr Cyochemical Laboratories (originally located in Camden, ME).  She continued to contribute knowledge to Celanese (a chemical company), General Foods, and NASA until the time of her passing.  

She died at 75 years old, generally unrecognized by her peers.  

Sources:  

Background – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanda_Kirkbride_Farr

More Background – https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/farr-wanda-k-1895-1983

As March is Women’s History Month, it might be fun to recognize a few of the women who may not be household names but have made considerable contributions to natural history and science.

Let’s start with Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps.  We’ll just call her Ms. Phelps.  

Born in 1793, the youngest in a family with seventeen children, it is unlikely that anyone would have predicted that she would ultimately write textbooks on botany, geology, chemistry, and natural philosophy.   Ms. Phelps, however, took full advantage of her family’s emphasis on education, debate, and independent thinking.   By the age of sixteen, she was already teaching at the local academy.

With the encouragement of family members and the support of a few key male mentors, Phelps continued to add to her knowledge and experiences. She was now teaching at the Troy Female Seminary.  Recognizing a lack of introductory science textbooks for her college students, she took it upon herself to write one.  

Page from Phelps’ Familiar Lectures on Botany.

Her most successful textbook is entitled Familiar Lectures on Botany, Explaining the Structure, Classifications, and Uses of Plants, Illustrated upon the Linnaean and Natural Methods with a Flora For Practical Botanists.  (Long titles were the standard of those times.) This volume was first published in 1829.

Phelps’ approach to constructing this text was counter to the prevailing philosophy.  First, the book was not exclusively intended to improve how a woman dealt with domestic chores.  Instead, Phelps believed that a greater understanding of science could also enhance an understanding of religion, art, and literature.   (Note that Phelps was not a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, however.  Everyone has their faults.)

The text also had a level of rigor not generally seen in books written for women.  Phelps divided the book into six parts, with fifty-three lectures.  A review of the book reveals that it resembles a keying guide.  There are many hand-drawn illustrations to help the reader envision separate parts and features of the various plants.   Additionally, Phelps included hands-on exercises to reinforce understanding of the lectures.  One project encouraged creating one’s own herbarium.  

Her work was widely recognized. Consequently, in 1850, she became the second woman to be elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (The first was Maria Mitchell, an astronomer.)

You can review a copy of Familiar Lectures on Botany by going to this link:  https://archive.org/details/familiarlectures00phel

We’ll include more profiles throughout Women’s History Month.  Stay tuned!

Sources:

Background on Phelps — https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2013/08/almira-phelps.html