Elizabeth Knight Britton was born on January 9,
1858, in New York City, New York. As a young girl, her parents moved
to Cuba, and she was raised on the sugar plantation her family owned.
She attended school in both Cuba and New York. She performed
especially well in science.
Britton graduated from Hunter College in 1875.
There she worked for the next ten years, dabbling in botany. Through
her work, she established herself as a leading amateur botanist. She
married Columbian College geologist Nathaniel Britton in August 1885.
Elizabeth Britton died in the Bronx, New York,
on February 25, 1934.
By 1883, Elizabeth Britton had chosen a
specialty in botany, bryology. Bryology is the study of mosses. Her
marriage to Nathaniel, a Columbian College professor, opened up new
doors. Soon she was given charge of the moss collection at Columbia.
She built an impressive collection, notably with the purchase of
the collection of August Jaeger of Switzerland in 1893.
Britton, with the support of the Torrey
Botanical Club, took the lead in advocating the establishment of a
botanical garden in New York. Her efforts were successful. The New York
Botanical Garden was incorporated in 1891. Her husband became the
first director of the 250-acre establishment in Bronx Park in 1896.
Next Britton helped found two botanical
organizations. She helped found the Sullivant Moss Society in 1898. (It
changed its name to the American Bryological Society in 1949.) Then in
1902, she founded the Wild Flower Preservation Society of America.
With the Wild Flower Society, Britton led movements that saved numerous
endangered wildflower species across the country.
Throughout her career as a botanist, Elizabeth
Britton published more than 340 signed scientific papers.
Elizabeth Britton became a member of the Torrey
Botanical Club in 1879. She was editor of the Bulletin of the Torrey
Botanical Club from 1886 until 1888.
Britton became the unofficial curator of mosses
at the Columbia College Herbarium, after it was moved to the New York
Botanical Garden in 1899. She was appointed honorary curator of mosses
Britton was the secretary and treasurer of the
Wild Flower Preservation Society of America from 1902 until 1927. Also
during that time, from 1916 to 1919, she was the president of the
Sullivant Moss Society.
Britton's most notable honors are have 15
species and one moss genus, Bryobrittonia, named after her.
Gertrude Knight Britton," Women in American History
by Encyclopedia Brittanica.
Knight Britton," 4000 Years of Women in
- Noble, Abbey. "Plant Ambitions: Elizabeth Knight Britton
(1858-1934)." New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams
January/February 1998: 33.
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