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Florence A. Merriam Bailey

Florence Merriam Bailey | Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7417, Florence Merriam Bailey Papers, 1865-1942
Did you know that… ?
  • Florence's father, Clinton, studied natural history, and encouraged her and her brother, Hart, in their scientific interests when they were young--allowing them on a 2-month camping and collecting trip; Hart educated his little sister with his own ornithology and mammalogy work, and her aunt Helen taught Florence botany; Florence's college-educated mother, Caroline, taught her astronomy?
  • Florence's marriage to Vernon Bailey was commented on by contemporaries as being unusual because the pair were both so in love, cooperative, and both worked together and camped together?
  • Florence used to believe that killing birds was unethical and one should only enjoy observing them, but with her brother, Hart's, and husband, Vernon's, influence, grew to believe that preserving specimens was equally important for learning about different species, so she learned to kill and skin the birds?
  • Florence continued to write bird articles throughout her life for The Condor and The Auk journals?
  • In 1921, she received an honorary Bachelor's degree from Smith College for her recognized work in the ornithology field (instead of the certificate she graduated with)?
  • In 1929, Florence received an honorary LL.D. Degree from the University of New Mexico for writing Birds of New Mexico, making her "Dr. Bailey"?
  • In 1931, the American Ornithologists' Union presented her with the Brewster Medal for being highly influential in the ornithology field?
  • She continued to camp outside with her husband, Vernon, well into their 70's, enduring rugged terrain and difficult weather?
  • By the time she died in 1948, Florence was relatively unknown for her work, but she is, today, considered one of the first successful women ornithologists in America?
The Little Lover (Western House Wren) | A-Birding on a Bronco, 1896, Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • Florence is born in New York in 1863.
  • She attends Smith College as a "special student" because of her informal, home-schooling in science and ornithology and can choose her own classes; receives her certificate at graduation in 1886.
  • Writes her first book in 1889, Birds Through an Opera Glass, mainly for a popular audience without much attention to scientific classifications, and with pleasant commentary about the birds.
  • Becomes ill shortly after this publication with tuberculosis; her mother passes away and Florence moves to Utah with fellow bird writer, Olive Thorne Miller.
  • She continues to write ornithology books between 1889 and 1939, and is well respected by the ornithology community; her books become more scientifically-detailed as she grows older.
  • She moves in with her brother, Hart, head of the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy in Washington, D.C. between 1896 and 1897, and in 1897 she helps to found, and work for, the Audubon Society of D.C.
  • Marries Vernon Bailey at age 36 in 1899.
  • Vernon passes away in 1942, and Florence in 1948.

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey (1863-1948) was born in Locust Gorve, NY to a wealthy family of educated naturalists who taught her many sciences when she was young.  Florence was able to attend Smith College as a "special" student because of her extensive homeschooling in various subjects by family members, meaning that she was able to choose her own courses and receive a certificate of completion (1882-1886).  At Smith, Florence studied her passion, ornithology, and founded an Audubon chapter, where the club went on regular bird-watching walks with John Burroughs, a popular contemporary naturalist.  After her graduation from Smith, she returned home and wrote articles about bird watching that were published by Audubon Magazine.  Using these articles, she wrote her first book in 1889, Birds Through an Opera Glass.  In this book she quotes other naturalists, including Mary Treat.
After she and her mother became ill with tuberculosis, her mother passed away and Florence went to Utah with a friend and fellow bird writer, Olive Thorne Miller.  There, Florence wrote her second book, My Summer in a Mormon Village, which discussed village life but also bird life in the area.  In 1894, she went to Twin Oaks Valley in San Diego County, CA, where she observed birds on camping trips.  She returned home in 1895, cured of tuberculosis, and lived with her brother in Washington, D.C.  She used her camping notes to write another book, A-Birding on a Bronco in 1896, and Birds of Village and Field shortly after--using illustrations by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.  The latter book was a popular hit and one of the first successful bird guides in America.