A Sister of Science

#OTD It's the birthday of E. Lucy Braun who was born on April 19, 1889 in Cincinnati. The E stood for Emma, but she went by Lucy. In 1950, Braun was the first woman elected president of the Ecological Society of America. A quiet, bright, and dedicated field scientist, she worked as a botanist at the University of Cincinnati.

Braun became interested in the outdoors as a child. Growing up on May Street in Cincinnati, her parents would take Lucy and her older sister, Annette, by horse-drawn streetcar to the woods in Rose Hill so they could spend time in the woods. The girls were taught to identify wildflowers. In turn, the girls helped gather specimens for their mother's herbarium. The girls both got PhD's - Lucy in botany, Annette in Zoology - and they never married. However, they lived together their entire lives, leaving their childhood May street for a home in Mount Washington. The sisters turned the upstairs into a laboratory and the gardens around the house into an outside laboratory. At the age of 80, Braun was still leading people on field trips in Ohio.

Friends of Braun 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 she died, Emma had collected some 11,891 specimens for her own personal herbarium. This was the result of tremendous personal dedication; Braun drove over 65,000 miles during a 25 year quest throughout the eastern United States. Her 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, Braun 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 she died of heart failure in March, 1971, at the age of 81, she was one of the top three ecologists In the United States. Her herbarium was acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington D.C.

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E. Lucy Braun
E. Lucy Braun
E. Lucy Braun and her sister Annette
E. Lucy Braun and her sister Annette