The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Science
Women's History Month is meant to celebrate notable, influential women who, through their activism in their chosen field, made contributions to history and society. One woman that we here at the Archives would like to highlight is Florence Merriam Bailey, an American nature writer and ornithologist who made significant contributions to ornithology through her participation and work with the National Audubon Society, the American Ornithologists' Union, and more.
As an intern with the Digital Services Division, I worked with the Florence Merriam Bailey Papers for the past seven weeks and learned a great deal about Florence's life and work and its influence on the 19th century scientific community. I have to be honest, before embarking on this project, I had little to no knowledge about the field of ornithology and had never heard of Florence's work. After looking at her various diaries, journals, publications, and photographs, Florence's passion for studying birds became very apparent to me.
Florence was the daughter of Clinton Levi Merriam and the sister of Clinton (C.) Hart Merriam, a famous zoologist who worked for and eventually became director of the U. S. Biological Survey and was first president of the American Society of Mammalogy. C. Hart Merriam introduced Florence to her future husband, Vernon Orlando Bailey, another prominent figure in the field of natural history. Vernon and C. Hart Merriam worked together compiling their research and field work and shared their work with the Smithsonian. Vernon and Florence spent their life together as a perfect team, conducting research together and taking the scientific world by storm.
Florence was born on August 8, 1863 in Locust Grove, New York during the Civil War. At the age of eleven, she wrote a diary detailing her daily thoughts and activities in Washington, DC, where she was living at the time. In her early entries, she speaks of taking walks, attending Sunday school, and learning Latin. She was very literate and well-written by the age of eleven and cared about her studies. "I have finished all of my Sunday School lesson, but of course I will have to look it over every day." She even displayed a hint of adolescent humor in her entries, as on January 6 she states, "I have not done anything today that is worth writing down so I guess I won't say anything." I found this first diary interesting not only because I was able to read about young Florence's life but also because it was really interesting to study the physical differences in the diaries themselves from those of today. Florence also kept other diaries of her life in Washington, and journals from trips to South Carolina, Maine, California, etc. In her California journal in particular, I found that her curly, cursive writing was sometimes hard to decipher and I had to look up the places she was describing. However after working with her collection for the past several weeks, I started to become familiar with her handwriting.
This collection also includes a vast collection of field notes and photographs from her expeditions. One trip in particular caught my eye. Florence's 1898 trip to Mount Hood in Oregon was interesting to work with because it included both field notes as well as photographs. This made it easy to visualize the places and species she wrote about. She also took photos of the mountain itself as well as of the bird habitats in the area, including trees and bushes.
One of my favorite groups of photographs and documents are those from "Homewood." Homewood was Florence's name for the family property in Locust Grove, New York. She documents the house and land via black-and-white photographs. I particularly enjoyed the pictures of "Brownie," a squirrel that was often present in Homewood. Florence seemed to enjoy taking pictures of him, as there are several within her collection of him in a variety of amusing poses.
I enjoyed this collection for its variety of field documents and photographs, both in the field as well as personal ones. Through interacting with Florence's diaries, field books, and photographs I was able to connect at a personal level with this inspiring woman of the scientific community. Florence was not only a researcher of birds, but a promoter of their preservation too. She became involved with the Committee on Bird Protection of the American Ornithologists' Union, and as a result of her efforts and others, the Lacey Act of 1900 was instituted. This act prohibited interstate trade in wildlife that had been illegally taken, transported or sold. Florence Merriam Bailey was a prominent historical figure in the field of ornithology and an inspiring woman.
- Record Unit 7417 - Florence Merriam Bailey Papers, 1865-1942, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7267 - Vernon Orlando Bailey Papers, 1889-1941 and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Comparing Observations: Vernon and Florence Merriam Bailey, Smithsonian Collections blog
- A Beaver Corral, Fried Owl, and Pueblos: Adventures with Vernon Orlando Bailey, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Think the org chart is complex at your company/organization? Check out this org chart for the New York & Erie Railroad from 1855. [via Wired Design]
- Mach 6.7 . . . Now that's pretty fast! Get to know the X-15 in the National Air and Space Museum's Milestones of Flight gallery. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- Look in the collections of most archives and you'll find paper, lots of it. In honor of ubiquitous paper, take a look at the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Bhutan. [via Core77]
- That darn dust! All hands on deck at the National Museum of Natural History to help clean the cases and specimens in the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals. [via Unearthed, NMNH]
- Come April 10-11, if you happen to find yourself in Indianapolis, Indiana, be sure to check out Personal Digital Archiving 2014 at the Indiana State Library. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- You've transcribed journals, diaries, and botanical specimens, now its time to transcribe currency proof sheets from the National Numismatics Collection at the National Museum of American History. [via O say can you see?, NMAH
- Anzu wyliei - one scary chicken and newly discovered bird-like dinosaur. [via Smithsonian Science]
- Whoa . . . that is pretty mesmerizing! Check out these animated gifs by Hungarian/German graphic designer David Szakaly. [via Colossal]
The stylish woman with bright eyes and an eager smile appears almost ethereally exuberant. By January 1937, when she posed in a flowered hat and sporting two orchids, Jane Stafford (1899-1991) was earning wide respect as a medical reporter, as a "typewritten bridge between the M.D. and the ultimate consumer." An earlier photograph, taken when she first joined the Science Service staff, sent a different message. That image may explain why one potential employer initially pegged her as "just another doll" - until she quickly, cleverly, and accurately fulfilled a test assignment.
Stafford had been born into a life of privilege (her father was a successful Chicago attorney) but she built a professional reputation with intelligence and hard work. At Smith College, she majored in chemistry and, after graduating in 1920, worked briefly as a hospital technician. Laboratory life offered first-hand glimpses of clinical medicine. Then, on the staff of the American Medical Association's popular magazine Hygeia, Stafford learned how to write for popular audiences and also acquired her lifelong love of writing.
When Stafford and her widowed mother moved to Baltimore (where her brother Edward was beginning medical training), she scoured the area for jobs. Fortunately, Science Service's medical editor had just quit. Stafford's chemistry degree, hospital experience, and intelligence outweighed any unfamiliarity with news deadlines. From 1928 until leaving in 1956 to work at the National Institutes of Health, she explored all aspects of medicine, from tuberculosis to toothaches. In the 1940s, she wrote about doctors on the battlefield, nutrition on the home front, and the "war on polio." As she explained in 1935, Science Service had few "taboo" subjects: they discussed venereal disease, pregnancy, "and all the glands and hormones." Although the organization's director "did not like the word 'intestine' and generally we avoid [the word] urine by calling it kidney secretion or excretion," Stafford assured former Hygeia colleague Mildred Whitcomb that the topics were always chosen by "scientific importance or news value."
Life for a female journalist was not all work, of course. Covering a medical meeting might include dinner with other science journalists or sampling local entertainment. After attending a bacteriology conference in New York City in January 1936, Stafford wrote Whitcomb that she had seen "three good plays": Dead End, Porgy and Bess, and Boy Meets Girl. That summer, Stafford and her mother vacationed in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware ("Nearby, quiet ocean resort, very charming, nice people, no crowds, cool and not too expensive. Had a pleasant time, swimming, bridge, dancing, reading, knitting and sunning. Came back with much suntan, and promptly had to write a story on that subject for Today Magazine.").
And the following month, Stafford confessed to Whitcomb that she had succumbed to the latest fad. "I am practically in retirement, socially, while reading Gone with the Wind–which I had firmly intended not to read. Entertaining book, but I still feel it is rather a waste of time to be reading it at all, though I don't know that I would do anything more profitable with the evenings it has taken."
As Stafford approached middle age, she retained her willowy figure and social skills. In 1938, Whitcomb wrote that a mutual acquaintance ("Mr. B") had seen Stafford at a meeting in Kansas City and reported that "you resembled a 'beautiful wild flower.' Your conversation, he said, was sophisticated but your dress belied it."
That combination of intelligence and style carried into the workplace. Even when Stafford was photographed in her office piled with textbooks, surrounded by the tools of her trade - telephone, typewriter, and advance proofs of medical articles - she wore a strand of pearls.
- Women and Science at Science Service, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7091 - Science Service, Records, circa 1910-1963, Smithsonian Institution Archives