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Women Entomologists of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries


A handful of women, each with a passion for insects, made significant contributions to the field of entomology throughout history. Women entomologists discovered new species, traveled the world to collect insects, published scientific papers in entomology journals, and even worked with Charles Darwin.

Mary Ball (1812-1898):

Mary Ball, an amateur entomologist living in Ireland, made some important discoveries in the 1800's. She identified the sounds made by water boatman, called stridulations, as mating calls. Ball also found the first migratory locust documented in Ireland. Male entomologists of the time noted the accuracy of her observations, and the Belgian authority on dragonflies, Baron de Selys-Longchamps, even visited her in Ireland to examine her insect collection. In her day, women did not publish their own work in scientific journals; many of her discoveries were credited to men, including her brother Robert.

Margaret Rae MacKay:

Margaret Rae MacKay earned a master's degree in entomology from the University of Saskatchewan in 1938, the first woman to do so. Her first job took her to London, where she worked as an entomological artist. She might have remained there for good, had it not been for World War II. Back in Canada, she became a forest entomologist for the government, conducting field studies throughout North America. She achieved considerable success as a specialist in moths, publishing an extensive series of scientific papers and illustrations throughout her career.

Mary Davis Treat (1830-1923):

Mary Davis Treat earned a living as a science writer, entomologist, and botanist. She published her first scientific article in the American Entomologist and Botanist. Her work as an entomologist focused on controlling insect pests, research which she published in a book, Injurious Insects of the Farm and Field, in 1882. Charles Darwin applauded her experiments on controlling the sexes of butterflies; she contributed to his work on carnivorous plants. In her lifetime, she discovered several new insect species, two of which are named for her.

Edith Marion Patch (1876-1954):

As a child, Edith Marion Patch won a contest for an essay on monarch butterflies. With her prize money, she bought the Manual for the Study of Insects by John Henry Comstock. When she tried to get a job in entomology, she was repeatedly rejected because she was a woman. Her persistence convinced Charles Woods of the University of Maine to hire her, but she had to work without pay for her first year to prove herself. Patch earned her masters' degree, then completed her Ph. D. at Columbia University. She became an authority on aphids, and was elected president of the Entomological Society of America in 1930.

Cynthia Longfield (1896-1991):

Cynthia Longfield, another Irish woman, used her wealth to pursue her own study of dragonflies and damselflies. She authored a guide to Odonates of the British Isles. Throughout her life, she traveled the world to collect and observe insects. In 1924, she joined the St. George Scientific Expedition to the Pacific, and later made trips to Africa and South America.

Nancy Kent Perry (1918- ):

Nancy Kent Perry earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Sydney in 1945, but work for women entomologists was scarce in her native Australia. She moved to the United Kingdom in 1946, finding work as a timber entomologist. Four years later, she returned to Australia and succeeded in finding work in her field, first studying the Sirex woodwasp and later researching mosquitoes. When she married in 1957, she was forced to resign from her position with the government. At the time, married women could not work for the Australian Government.

Annie Trumbull Slosson (1838-1926):

Annie Trumbull Slosson began her work as an amateur entomologist at the age of 48. Her collection of insect specimens numbered over 35,000, all of which she donated to the American Museum of Natural History. Over 100 species bear her name, including several that she described. A founder and supporter of the New York Entomological Society, she earned respect from fellow entomologists and taxonomists.
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