Three Female Authors and Their Hushed Love of Science

1. Emily Dickinson & Her Herbarium

Gathering, growing, classifying and pressing flowers was a passion of Emily Dickinson's long before she got her start at a poet. She began her studies in botany at age nine, but it wasn’t until her late teens that she began viewing her love of botany with a more scientific eye.

Emily Dickinson, daguerreotype, ca. 1847. (Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, gift of Millicent Todd Bingham, 1956)

Emily's herbarium is kept in the Emily Dickinson Room at Harvard’s Houghton Rare Book Library, however time has taken it's tole and the fragility of the collection prohibits scholars from examining it. If you've got a little over a grand laying around, you can purchase the a facsimile edition on Amazon but if you're a regular gal like me, that's probably not the case. Thankfully, this modern world we live in has enabled the digitizing of Emily’s herbarium

A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Pressed flowers on a page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.
A page from Emily Dickinson’s herbarium via the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

2. Beatrix Potter & Her Fungi Watercolors

Like Emily Dickinson, Beatrix Potter's interest in mushrooms predates her ventures into writing. Her passion first came to light in 1887, at age 20, when she began studying and meticulously documenting fungi using watercolor. Her love continued over the years and by the time she died in 1943, she had produced around 350 known images of fungi, mushrooms and spores. 

Beatrix Potter as a teenager

In a 2007 biography around Beatrix, historian Linda Lear wrote, “Beatrix’s interest in drawing and painting mushrooms, or fungi, began as a passion for painting beautiful specimens wherever she found them...She was drawn to fungi first by their ephemeral fairy qualities and then by the variety of their shape and colour and the challenge they posed to watercolour techniques.” 

Is it just me or does Lear's description above make the connection between Beatrix's drawings and writing seem crystal clear?


3. Margaret Gatty & Her Seaweed Collection

English children's author Margaret Gatty had a fascination with marine life and over her lifespan, amassed a large collection of marine-related specimens. She acquainted herself with some of the most prominent names in marine studies and educated herself in the science of the seas.


While Margaret did teach herself to draw these specimens she became so enamored with, the illustrations shown here were actually drawn by someone else who was hired to illustrate her book British Sea-Weeds. Apparently she was never really happy with these but wen ahead and used them for the publication anyway.


The Anti-Flirt Club

Cat calls...They've been thrown out of moving vehicles since the advent of the automobile, and these gals weren't having it. In fact, they formed an entire club precisely to combat the unwarranted harassment that women were receiving on the streets. Created in 1923, the Anti-Flirt Club aimed to protect young women and girls who received unwelcome attention from men in automobiles and on street corners. Their first big event being "Anti-Flirt" week, which began on March 4, 1923.

The Anti-Flirt Club was founded in 1923 by Miss Alice Reighly.

The club had a list of rules to abide by which was as follows:

  1. Don't flirt: those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.
  2. Don't accept rides from flirting motorists—they don't invite you in to save you a walk.
  3. Don't use your eyes for ogling—they were made for worthier purposes.
  4. Don't go out with men you don't know—they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  5. Don't wink—a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
  6. Don't smile at flirtatious strangers—save them for people you know.
  7. Don't annex all the men you can get—by flirting with many, you may lose out on the one.
  8. Don't fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  9. Don't let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  10. Don't ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.
Members of the 1920s group, The Anti-Flirt Club. 

They even had a write-up in the Washington Post article on February 28, 1923. The article 10 Girls Start War on Auto Invitation, talked about the issue at hand: "Too many motorists are taking advantage of the precedent established during the war by offering to take young lady pedestrians in their cars, Miss Helen Brown, 639 Longfellow Street, declared yesterday."

Miss Brown, who was the secretary of the club, voiced her opinion bluntly stating "(these men) don't all tender their invitations to save the girls a walk," and while there were "other varieties of flirts," motorists were the absolute worst.

Founding member of the early feminist group The Anti-Flirt Club, Miss Alice Reighly.

Shown above is the president herself, Miss Alice Reighly. I tried to find more information on her outside of the club, but couldn't find to much. Would love to hear any juicy tidbits you might know about this movement!