Elizabeth Wirt

By a Lady

1784 Today is the birthday of the American Floral Dictionary writer, Elizabeth Wirt.

Elizabeth was the second wife of William Wirt, who served as an attorney general of the United States. They had ten children.

In 1829, Elizabeth wrote her floral dictionary.  She published it anonymously, using the very mysterious name ‘by a Lady.’ Wirt featured lovely tidbits in her dictionary - quotes and prose by poets and writers accompanied the information for each plant. Her dictionary also included extraneous information that would be of interest to gardeners in the early to mid-1800s: the Structure of Plants, the Structure of Flowers, and a sketch on the Life of Linnaeus. Elizabeth shared all she knew about the history of each flower she featured in her dictionary. Gardeners adored her book. It was republished every two years. In the 1835 edition, Elizabeth finally felt confident enough to publish the book using her name "Mrs. E. W. Wirt of Virginia.”The final edition of her book was published in in 1855 it was the first book of its kind in the United States to feature colored plates.

You can see a copy of Wirt's dictionary online for free.

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Elizabeth Wirt
Elizabeth Wirt

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