History books

Click on covers or titles to order from the publisher. (Both books should also be available from all major retailers.)

Women in the Field coverWomen in the Field: America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists
Marcia Myers Bonta
Texas A&M University Press, 1991

Men generally dominated the study of the outdoors in the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. But there were women in the field, too. Marcia Myers Bonta gives biographies of twenty-five of these women naturalists in this well-detailed study.

Bonta divides the women by the subject of their study: naturalists, botanists, entomologists, ornithologists, and ecologists. She also describes a group of women that she considers pioneers, showing them in all their individuality, as field persons, as professionals, and as friends with others in their field.

The lives of these 25 women, many of whom were born well before the turn of the century, bring to mind an old-fashioned word: gumption. Unfazed by the hazards of their chosen careers, they simply ‘went at it,’ as entomologist Anna Botsford Comstock said, ‘with their usual daring on untried paths,’ fueled in many cases by nothing more than an abiding curiosity about the natural world and a passion for collecting. Ynes Mexia, a ‘botanical adventurer,’ traveled some 3000 miles down the Amazon in only 10 years and on one trip alone gathered 33,000 specimens. Annie Montague Alexander, whom Bonta … calls ‘a quintessential naturalist,’ was raised on Maui by an adventurous father who encouraged her interest in the natural world. Alexander traveled extensively in Alaska and California, and in 1947 at the age of 79, set off for Baja to collect botanical specimens.

Publisher’s Weekly

These biographies of American women naturalists bring to light the large number of women who made important contributions to the natural history of North America, often receiving little credit for their work. As a woman who has long waited through the raising of a family for the opportunity to become a field biologist, I found the stories of these women’s bold expeditions, often made alone, through tropics, across wild rivers, and over steep mountains, searching for undiscovered plants, insects, and birds inspiring. The women in these accounts practiced patient and exact science in their studies, and won credit for their work despite prevailing prejudices against women as scientists. What prejudices still exist today? What self-doubts still remain for women naturalists today? This book inspires me with confidence in my new direction. I would recommend it for all women naturalists amateur and professional, and especially for those in their teens who are considering a career in natural sciences.

Amazon reader review

A remarkable and thought-provoking book.


What a pleasure to have the opportunity to review this book! This collection of biographies was compatible with a rocking chair and the oak logs blazing in the fireplace.

Forest and Conservation History

American Women Afield coverAmerican Women Afield: Writings by Pioneering Women Naturalists
Marcia Myers Bonta
Texas A&M University Press, 1995

Marcia Myers Bonta has selected the most charming and sensitive writings of twenty-five women naturalists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and supplemented them with biographical profiles. From Susan Fenimore Cooper’s early warnings about the profligate use of natural resources to Mary Treat’s tenacious defense of her scientific discoveries and Rachel Carson’s impassioned pleas to save the earth, American Women Afield catalogs the determination and devotion of these early scientists and acknowledges their contributions to ornithology, entomology, botany, agrostology, and ecology.

Each excerpt in this book reveals the important role these women played not only as writers but also as popularizers of nature study at a time when very little literature on this subject was available to the general public. Each selection is unique in style, tone, and subject and shows not only the authors’ love of nature but their desire to communicate that love to others.

The 20th in Texas A&M’s Louise Lindsey Merrick Natural Environmental Series and a companion to Bonta’s Women in the Field, this book highlights the works of 25 women naturalists whose writing is as noteworthy for its scientific insight as for its feminine perspective. Over a century before such writers as Rachel Carson would put pen to paper and influence a new generation of women naturalists, 19th-century writers Susan Fenimore Cooper, Mary Treat and Althea Sherman wrote as if to prove once and for all that Thoreau and his male cohorts were not alone in their desire to study and preserve the natural resources disappearing around them. Cooper’s Rural Hours and Treat’s Home Studies in Nature, both excerpted here, preserve in beautifully written passages glimpses of many plants and birds long since extinct. In ‘Ecology and World War I,’ an excerpt from her Adventures in Ecology, Edith Clements recounts her career as a naturalist. That Clements most often worked alongside and in the shadow of her husband, acclaimed plant ecologist Frederic Clements, takes nothing from her prose. Bonta includes biographical entries and bibliographies for each author, ensuring that naturalists for years to come may learn something of their forgotten heritage.

Publisher’s Weekly

Offers a rare chance to learn about women’s responses to nature in their own voice. […] Thanks to Bonta’s astute choices, these rediscovered gems of natural history writing are well worth reading.

Audubon Naturalist News

A wonderful glimpse into the lives and writing of twenty-five women naturalists.

Western American Literature

%d bloggers like this: