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Mary Jane Rathbun

Mary Jane Rathbun (1860-1943) worked for the United States Fish Commission and later at the United States National Museum in the Division of Marine Invertebrates | Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s
Did you know that… ?
  • Her first time seeing the ocean was when she went with her brother to Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1881, at the age of 21?
  • Even though she never mentioned learning foreign languages at public school, she could understand French and German works while at the Smithsonian?
  • She studied English literature and history, to which she attributed her later success at writing reports about the Smithsonian’s marine invertebrate holdings, and at writing almost 200 published zoological works?
  • Mary had beautiful Spencerian penmanship, evidenced by her museum labels, catalog entries and other records?
Mary Jane Rathbun (1860-1943), carcinologist at the National Museum of Natural History, at her desk examining crab specimens. Picture was taken towards the end of her career at the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit Record Unit 72
  • 1860 Mary is born in New York.
  • 1878 She graduates from public school in Buffalo, New York.
  • 1881 Mary accompanies her brother, Richard, scientist Addison Emery Verill, and assistant Sidney Irving Smith, to Woods Hole, Massachusetts; she labels and sorts zoological specimens, including crustaceans.
  • 1881-1884 She works voluntarily, during the summers, for the Fish Commission.
  • 1884-1886 Mary is granted a paid clerkship with the Fish Commission.
  • 1886 She becomes a Copyist in the Department of Marine Invertebrates at the Smithsonian.
  • 1893 Mary is promoted to Aid at the Smithsonian.
  • 1894 Mary is again promoted, this time to Second Assistant Curator.
  • 1907 She becomes Assistant Curator.
  • 1914 Mary resigns from the Smithsonian so that another Assistant Curator can be hired and paid.
  • 1916 She receives an honorary M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • 1917 Mary receives an honorary doctorate from The George Washington University.
  • 1918-1938 She publishes numerous papers on Crustaceans as Bulletins for the Smithsonian (then called the U.S. National Museum).
  • 1943 Mary passes away.

Mary Jane Rathbun (1860-1943) was born in New York.  She went to public school, graduating in 1878, but did not attend college.  She went to Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1881 to help her brother (a member of the United States Fish Commission) label zoological specimens, including crustaceans; her brother was assistant to scientist Addison Emery Verill.  Mary enjoyed labeling and sorting specimens and since that trip developed a lifelong passion for studying crustaceans.
After several years as an unpaid zoological assistant to her brother, Richard, she received a clerkship from the Fish Commission.  Then Spencer Fullerton Baird of the Smithsonian Institution hired her as a Copyist in the Department of Marine Invertebrates at the Smithsonian.  She worked mostly on her own, and after 28 years at the Smithsonian, was made assistant curator of the Division of Crustacea.  She wrote, and co-wrote, many texts and several books on crustaceans, and a large number of crustacean taxa were named for her.  She retired in 1915 and the following year, the Smithsonian made her an “Honorary Research Associate.”  She was also awarded with other honorary degrees.  She passed away in 1943.