Author: Bill Ward
Lindheimer, Engelmann, Berlandier, Drummond, Roemer – all familiar surnames of early botanists, who are honored in the names of our native plants. All are male. Were there any women botanists involved in early Texas botany? The answer is yes, a few.
By the late 1700s, it was recognized that the science of botany was well within the female comprehension. The “higher” societies of Europe came to accept botany as a scientific avocation suitable for women. Through the Nineteenth Century, women became increasingly more important to the growth of botanical science in both Europe and North America, even though most of the female botanists were not professionals.
One such self-taught botanist was Maud Jeannie Fuller Young, who wrote the first textbook on Texas botany, “Familiar Lessons in Botany, with Flora of Texas,” in 1873.
Maud Jeannie was born Matilda Jane Fuller in North Carolina in 1826. When she was 17, her family settled in Houston. Four years later she married Dr. Samuel Young, who died before the birth of their son. Mrs. Young wrote poems, essays, and fiction that was published in Houston newspapers and various magazines. She was a staunch supporter of the Confederacy and was known as the Mother of Hood’s Brigade.
Mrs. Young had a deep interest in botany, and she was the Texas state botanist in 1872-1873. After her death in 1882, her son took her herbarium of Texas ferns and flowering plants to his home in Galveston, where the collection was lost during the hurricane of 1900.
As far as I can tell, no native plants were named for Mrs. M. J.Young, but another woman named Young did receive that honor. Mary Sophie Young (1872-1919) was one of the first botanists at the University of Texas, and her botanical collections had a significant role in starting the highly respected University of Texas herbarium.
Mary was born in Ohio, the last child and only daughter of eight children. Tramps through the countryside with her brothers contributed to the strength of character and toughness in the field that would serve her well in later years. After receiving a BA from Wellesley College in 1895, Mary taught high school in Missouri, Illinois, and Wisconsin. While still teaching high school in Wisconsin, she began graduate work at the University of Chicago, eventually earning her MS and PhD in botany.
Dr. Mary Young arrived at the University of Texas at Austin in 1910. Reportedly, she was an outstanding teacher. She took her students on plant-collecting trips east to the Blackland Prairies and west to the Edwards Plateau. Later she took longer collecting trips during the summers, covering a wide range of Texas vegetation regions from East Texas to the Trans Pecos to the Panhandle. In those days she had to endure the summer hikes in heavy, ankle-length skirts.
She corresponded with well-known botanists and traded specimens with other herbariums around the country, helping build the reputation of the University of Texas herbarium. Thousands of her specimens are included in the present collection at the Plant Resources Center at the University of Texas. Mary Young died of cancer in 1919 at the young age of 46.
Three new taxa came from her collections, and the name of one honors her, Young’s snowbell (Styrax youngiae). This species (now subspecies of S. platanifolius) is known only from where Mary Young collected it in the Davis Mountains. It is listed as a Texas endangered species.