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Ynes Enriquetta Julietta Mexia

Ynes Mexia, undated | © California Academy of Sciences
Did you know that… ?
  • Ynes took pleasure in having plants named after her and felt it would give her a sense of immortality (many species are named for her, by herself or other botanists)?
  • Ynes went on a grass collecting trip with Agnes Chase and felt that Agnes did nothing but think about grasses, or about non-patriotic things like feminism and prohibition, which repulsed Ynes?
  • Renowned botanists from the [Asa] Gray Herbarium at Harvard praised Ynes for her contributions to the field botany?
  • Ynes was extraordinarily hardy, and braved long journeys, plagued with bugs, and even fell from a cliff, but continued to collect specimens because she felt it was important and enjoyed the adventure aspect to it?
Ynes Mexia on skis with pole in hand, circa 1919-1930 | © California Academy of Sciences
  • 1870 Ynes is born in Washington, DC to Mexican diplomat father and American mother.
  • 1873 Moves to Texas with her recently separated mother.
  • 1897 Moves to her father’s hacienda in Mexico City.
  • 1897 Marries a Spanish-German merchant.
  • 1904 Ynes's husband dies.
  • 1908 Marries rancher, D. Augustin Reygados.
  • 1909 Moves to San Francisco after a nervous breakdown and becomes a social worker; she later divorces her husband.
  • 1920 Joins the local Sierra Club.
  • 1921 Enrolls as a special student in natural science at University of California – Berkeley.
  • 1922 Joins a collection trip in Mexico with Professor Eustace Furlon.
  • 1924 Becomes a U.S. citizen.
  • 1925 Joins a collecting trip to Mexico with Rebecca Furlong; Ynes falls off of a cliff, injuring her hand and fracturing her ribs, but the trip resulted in 500 specimens, and 50 new species.
  • 1938 Ynes dies of lung cancer.

Ynes Mexia (1870-1938) was born in Washington, D.C.  Her father had a child with a mistress, and her mother had 6 children from a marriage prior to meeting her father.  Ynes’ mother moved her and her siblings away from their father to Texas, and Ynes had irregular periods of schooling.  After she became a teenager, she lived with her father for 10 years.  Ynes married a German-Spanish merchant Herman Lane in 1897.  When Ynes’ father passed away, she spent a long time in court, trying to keep her inheritance from his will, which the mistress tried to take away from her.  Ynes won the money and split it with two step-sisters.  However, her husband died soon after this court battle in 1904.  Ynes’ difficult childhood may have led to her temperamental nature, which her contemporaries often racialized and attributed to her Mexican heritage.
Ynes married a second time, at the age of 38, but divorced the man (D. Agustin Reygados).  In 1920, at the age of 50, when she started to travel with the Sierra Club, and in 1921 when she became a special student at the University of California in Berkeley, she developed an interest in the natural sciences.  She spent the rest of her life on various botanical collecting trips throughout the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and Peru.  She met and worked with Agnes Chase (agrostologist) and Alice Eastwood (botanist), and other famous scientists.  She managed to collect thousands of plant specimens, including unknown types of plants, and she felt her life’s purpose was finally realized in helping to identify plants.  She died in 1938 of lung cancer.