Jane Colden (1724-1766)
Art by Laura Meilman (blog, tumblr)
America’s first female botanist, Jane Colden was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and educated at home by her parents. Although she never learned Latin, Jane mastered Carl Linnaeus’s plant classification system, which her father translated into English for her. By 1757, she had complied a catalog of over 300 local plants. Jane both sketched living plants and created ink transfers from dried plants. She noted medicinal uses of plants, knowledge she may have acquired from local Native Americans.
Jane is known to have corresponded and exchanged seeds with leading American botanists such as Alexander Garden of South Carolina. Jane discovered the gardenia (pictured above) and named it in honor of her friend. Records also indicated that European botanists including Carl Linnaeus himself were aware of her work.
As a female scientist, Jane was something as a novelty. Some men of the period believed scientifically minded women were particularly well suited to botany because of women’s natural interest in beauty. However the contributions of female scientists were often overlooked. Coldenia, a type of herb, was named to honor her father not Jane.
Jane married a local physician in her late 30s and halted her scientific work. She died days before her 42th birthday from childbirth complications. After her death many botanists called on Carl Linnaeus to name a plant for her, but no plant has yet been named to honor her.