Mary Sophie Young
The Youngest of Eight
Today is the birthday of botanist and explorer Mary Sophie Young, who was born on this day in 1872.
In 2017, Nicole Elmer wrote a lovely profile of Young, which was featured on the website for the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Here are some highlights from Elmer's profile:
When Mary Sophie was born in Glendale, Ohio, to an Episcopalian minister and his wife, she was undoubtedly the answer to her parent’s prayers; they had already had seven boys by the time Mary Sophie was born.
Growing up with brothers was formative for Young; she often said she felt that playing with them outside had made her tough and that the experience had helped her withstand the challenging conditions often faced by botanists during plant collecting expeditions.
Young ended up getting her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. By the fall of 1910, she was on the faculty at the University of Texas; she had landed a job in the botany department.
In two short years, Young was put in charge of the herbarium, which already housed 2500 specimens; but had never had a curator. Young immediately set about adding to the herbarium through her collecting.
Early on, as a collector in Austin, Young began publishing her work, and she would often correspond with others using the simply sign-off "M.S. Young," which masked the fact that she was female. Young wrote in the manner that she spoke, very directly. To Young's delight, while exchanging letters, many people who read her prose and her initials and would incorrectly assume that she was a man. It gave her an immense feeling of satisfaction.
In Elmer's post about Young, she wrote:
"Young’s favorite area to collect was West Texas, and she traveled there during [her] vacation[s].... [in the] the summers of 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1918... Young would hire a younger man to accompany her, usually a university student, to assist with hunting and setting up camp. Young also paid part of her expenses on these collecting trips and donated her time. While in West Texas, she collected from ferns, grasses, cacti, large trees, and sedges."
Young recorded her 1914 trip in a journal.
Elmer wrote that,
"Young [expressed] awe at the landscape... of being in the vastness of West Texas at the turn of the century:
“It’s about five o’clock now. The ‘lonely’ time is beginning. The air is very transparent and very still and everything glistens. There is something of that uncanny fee ling of the consciousness of inanimate things.”
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