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Jane Colden (1724-1766)

Jane Colden was the first American female botanist. Born in 1724, she studied botany at a time when few women worked in the sciences. When she was just six years old, her father encouraged her to begin writing a book describing the kinds of plants she found on their land. He taught her to use the Linnean System (a binomial nomenclature system used to classify plants based on their genus and species) for classifying plant life. He translated the Latin into simple English words for her.

          The idea of a woman being seriously interested in science was a novelty in the 1730s. News of her book made Jane Colden instantly famous. Her accurate use of the LinneanSystem impressed leading botanists and earned her a place among the experts in the field.

          When she was finished, Colden had described and made drawings of 340 native New York flora. Many of the plants in her manuscript did not exist anywhere else in the world. She also included the medicinal properties of the plants that she learned from the Native Americans in the area. She wrote that tea from the Mountain Mist Leaves could ease stomach pain and the bark from the Prickly Ash shrub could help coughs.

          Colden continued her work in botany until 1759, when she married Dr. William Farquar. She died seven years later. Today Jane Colden’s original manuscript is at the British Museum of Natural History.