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Alice Eastwood

Gymnosperms, figure of Scotch Pine | Bergens Botany: Key and Flora, 1901 , Biodiversity Heritage Library
Did you know that… ?
  • Alice mentored other women botanists like Louise A. Boyd and Ynes Mexia?
  • Alice hiked with the Cross Country Club across the Sierra Nevada and this group wrote the first Sierra Club newsletters (about that trip)?
  • She climbed Mount Shasta by herself, joining up with six male hikers along the way, and descended the Mount by wearing a burlap sack like a diaper and sliding down the snowy slopes?
  • Alice accepted many honors but refused honorary college degrees because she was self-taught?
  • She created the Shakespeare Garden at the California Academy of Sciences?
  • A lilac and orchid were named for her, in addition to a fuschia (after she helped found the American Fuschia Society)?
  • Alice told Agnes Chase: "the most proper [honor] is that officially the name of the Herbarium is the Alice Eastwood Herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences" since Alice built it "with no help" from 1912 to 1930?
Alice Eastwood collecting Festuca eastwoodae grass | Courtesy of California Academy of Sciences Archives
  • 1859 Alice is born in Toronto, Canada.
  • 1865 Alice's mother, Eliza, passes away and her father, Colin, gives his children to different relatives to be raised; Alice is six at the time, and is sent to Oshawa Convent with her sister, where Alice develops a love of botany under the tutelage of an old priest who teaches her to garden.
  • 1873 Colin asks Alice and her sister to live with him in Denver, Colorado, where he is a storekeeper; Alice is 14, goes to high school and has a job.
  • 1879 Alice graduates high school as valedictorian and then becomes a well-regarded high school teacher.
  • 1880 During the summer break from her teaching job, Alice explores the Colorado frontier and collects plant specimens.
  • 1880 Colin re-marries into good fortune and he and Alice, now in her 20's, invest in real estate in Denver; these investments allow Alice to quit her teaching job and botanize full-time.
  • 1880's T.S. Brandegee and Katharine Brandegee invite Alice to the California Academy of Sciences to edit their journal Zoe.
  • 1892 Alice returns to San Francisco to work with the Brandegees and improve the herbarium at the Academy.
  • 1906 The San Francisco earthquake and fire destroy the herbarium and Alice leaves to work at the Gray Herbarium in Harvard for 2 years as staff assistant and travels to different herbariums around the world.
  • 1912 Alice returns to California Academy to help rebuild the herbarium at Golden Gate Park.
  • 1912-1949 Alice adds 340,000 specimens to the Academy's herbarium.
  • 1932 Alice publishes Leaflets of Western Botany, a quarterly journal, with Tom Howell's help.
  • 1953 Alice passes away.



Alice Eastwood (1859-1953) was born in Toronto, Canada. She discovered a love of botany when raised at a convent with her sister.  Alice later became a well-regarded high school teacher and used her teaching salary to identify botanical specimens in the High Rockies during summer breaks.  She became so well-known for her botanical trips and her hardiness that she was requested to guide visiting English naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, up Gray's Peak.
Her real estate investments in Denver allowed her to quit her teaching job and botanize full-time.  She had become relatively well-known in the botany community and Townshend Stith and Katharine Brandegee, of the Califoria Academy of Sciences, invited Alice to visit them and write articles for their botany journal, Zoe.  In 1892 the Brandegees paid her to organize the herbarium.
Alice spent her own money acquiring specimens and continued to collect in the Sierra and Coast ranges for the herbarium, often with other hikers.  The herbarium was in good shape by 1906 due to Alice's hard work.  She kept irreplaceable specimens separately from the others and when the San Francisco earthquake and fire hit on April 18th, 1906, she and a friend saved as many of the rare herbarium specimens as possible--though the building was ultimately destroyed. 
After a European trip, the California Academy asked her to return and rebuild their herbarium in Golden Gate Park.  She and a Scottish park superintendent, John McClaren, accomplished this together.
Another gardener, Tom Howell, became Alice's lifelong botanizing assistant and friend, and helped her to continue to grow the California Academy's herbarium.  Between 1912 and 1949, she added 340,000 specimens to the herbarium.  She worked until the age of 90, then a curator-emeritus.