The Botanist of the Science Sisters
April 19, 1889
Today is the birthday of the botanist Emma Lucy Braun.
Lucy was born in Cincinnati. Although her first name was Emma, she always went by Lucy.
In 1950, Lucy was the first woman elected president of the Ecological Society of America. A quiet, bright, and dedicated field scientist, Lucy worked as a botanist at the University of Cincinnati.
Lucy became interested in the outdoors as a child. Growing up on May Street in Cincinnati, Lucy's parents would take her and her older sister, Annette, by horse-drawn streetcar to the woods in Rose Hill so they could spend time in the woods. Both girls were taught to identify wildflowers, and they happily helped gather specimens for their mother's herbarium.
When they grew up, Lucy and her sister both got Ph.D.'s - Lucy in botany, Annette in Zoology. Neither of them ever married.
Instead, Lucy and Annette lived together their entire lives, leaving their childhood May street for a home in Mount Washington. And the sisters turned the upstairs into a laboratory and the gardens around the house into an outside laboratory. At the age of 80, Lucy was still leading people on field trips in Ohio.
Friends of Lucy have recounted,
"To be with her in the field was something. She made everything so real, so exciting she was just so knowledgeable."
"She loved to be out in the field rain wouldn't stop her. She could walk forever."
Lucy Braun said,
"Only through close and reverent examination of nature can humans understand and protect its beauties and wonders."
By the time Lucy died, she had collected some 11,891 specimens for her own personal herbarium. Thanks to her tremendous personal dedication, Lucy drove over 65,000 miles during her 25-year quest for botanical specimens throughout the eastern United States.
Lucy's heart belonged to the forests, and her book, Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America, is still regarded as a definitive text.
When asked about her time in the field, Lucy would happily recount how she had managed to dodge moonshiners' stills in the hills of Kentucky, gathering up plant samples unseen by the botanists of her time.
When Lucy died of heart failure in March 1971, at the age of 81, she was one of the top three ecologists In the United States.
Lucy's herbarium was acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington D.C.