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Articles » Alice Eastwood
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Alice Eastwood was a truly remarkable woman, at a time when women very seldom occupied important scientific posts. She was the Curator of the Herbarium at the California Academy of Sciences. This was no empty honour. She had collected many of the plants in that herbarium herself. Even if she had been a man the work she did was extraordinary. She lived to be ninety four, dying in 1953.

After her death the San Francisco Garden Club recognized her achievements by establishing scholarships in her name at City College. The first scholarship was awarded in 1949. This year (2005) thirteen students received awards in botany, horticulture and floristry. Alice Eastwood would be have been very gratified by this form of memorial.

Her early life was hard. She came from a poor family in Toronto and had to struggle for everything. Her mother died when she was six. Her father reluctantly farmed her out to relatives to make ends meet. Just going to school and continuing her education were major hurdles. Fortunately one of her uncles encouraged her love of plants and taught her many Latin names. He set her on a path she never left.

As an adult she had boundless energy. Her relaxation was hiking in the mountains. She not only restored her spirits but collected new and unknown native plants every- where she went.

At the academy, her colleague Gustav Eisen, a Swedish scientist, set very high standards and goaded Alice Eastwood to excel. The atmosphere must have been electric. She was an assertive and capable woman but he drove her hard.

Apart from her important scientific work Alice Eastwood is remembered for saving the academy’s herbarium during the 1906 earthquake. Long before the disaster struck she had developed a plan. When it came, she was ready. The risks were immense. Herbarium trays are heavy. For several hours she ran up and down the damaged staircase, carrying the trays and handing them to one of her assistants who came to help her.

Nowadays she would not have been allowed to enter the building. The staircase could have collapsed and killed her at any moment. She did not think about the danger but persisted until all the trays were safe. Not one was lost.

In her late eighties, she took her first plane ride, to Sweden, where she received academic honours. She was an indomitable woman who never gave up.