Katherine Brandagee

The Second Female Botanist

Today is the 175th birthday of the botanist Katherine Brandagee who was born on this day in 1844.

Brandagee was the third woman to enroll at Berkeley’s medical school and the second woman to be professionally employed as a botanist in the US.
While getting her MD at Berkeley, Kate had learned that plants were the primary sources of medicine. Botany intrigued her, so she dropped the mantle of a physician to pursue botany. Five years later, she was the curator of the San Francisco Academy of Sciences herbarium. There, Kate personally trained Alice Eastwood. When Kate moved on, Alice was ready to take her place; Kate was a phenomenal mentor.
During her time at the academy, in surprise development at the age of 40, Kate had “fallen insanely in love” with plantsman Townshend Brandegee. Equally yoked, their honeymoon was a 500-mile nature walk - collecting plant specimens from San Diego to San Francisco. The couple moved to San Diego, where they created a herbarium praised as a botanical paradise.
In 1906, when an earthquake destroyed the Berkley herbarium, the Brandegees single-handedly restored it by giving the school their entire botanical library (including many rare volumes) and their plant collection, which numbered some 80,000 plants. Thanks to Townshend's inheritance, the couple was financially independent, but they were also exceptionally selfless. The Brandegee’s followed their plants and books to Berkley, where Townshend and Kate worked the rest of their lives pro bono. Botanist Marcus Jones said of Kate,

“She was the one botanist competent to publish a real [book about the native plants of California].”

But Kate had delayed writing this work. Kate was 75 when she fell on the University grounds at Berkley - she broke her shoulder. Three weeks later, she died.

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Katherine Brandagee
Katherine Brandagee

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