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In the late 1800s the idea of women in economic entomology was pretty much a non-starter. There were, in fact, only a few men in this embryonic field. However one name of a female stood out - that of Mary Davis Treat.  Indeed Mary Treat was a pioneer in every sense of the term.  Having never gone to college, she became an expert on insects, spiders and birds, and wrote well respected scientific papers and popular articles and books on natural history, including a very popular manual for home owners on garden pests.

Born Mary Lua Adelia Davis in September of 1830 in Trumansville, New York, she became fascinated with the natural world.  After her marriage in 1863 to Dr. Joseph Burrell Treat, a medical doctor with diverse interests, she became a serious naturalist. The Treats moved first to Iowa, and then in 1869, to Vineland New Jersey.  Mary separated from her husband in 1874 and wrote books to support herself.  She also wrote scientific journal articles, publishing them in the American Entomologist and Botanist, the American Naturalist, and the Journal of the New York Entomological Society. Her Injurious Insects of Farm and Field (1882) was reprinted five times.  Her articles on insects, spiders and birds in Harper's Monthly were widely read.  In total she published five books and 76 popular and scientific articles during the 36 years of her career.

She started a correspondence with the Harvard botanist Asa Gray and Gray introduced her to Charles Darwin.  She collaborated with Darwin on his book "Insectivorous Plants," which Darwin gratefully acknowledged in the book.  A strong supporter of the Theory of Natural Selection, Mary Treat was a superb observer, as Darwin states.

She traveled to Florida and rediscovered the lost Nymphaea lutea water lily.  In addition she discovered several new species of organisms, including an ant and zephyr lily, both of which are named after her.

She died after a fall at Pembroke, New York (where she had moved to be with her sister) in April of 1923, at the age of 92.

My personal association with Mary Treat began in a very odd way.  While haunting a thrift store for books during the 1960s  I came across 37 bound volumes of Harper's Monthly, dated 1850 to 1882, with the period of the Civil War (including the late 1850s and 1860s until around 1868 or so) missing.  While perusing the volumes I encountered an article by Mary Treat on spiders, which was well illustrated with beautiful woodcuts.  I soon found one or two others of her articles. As they were not priced I asked the thrift store attendant how much they would cost each, hoping to be able to pick up one or two of the more interesting volumes, including those with articles by Mary Treat.  The attendant said that they thought $12 would be a good price.  This was a bit steep for my budget at the time, so I started to put the books back when they added ...."for the lot!"  I had those books for years, but multitudinous moves resulted in my disposing of all of them over the years.  I later acquired her book on injurious insects, which was also fascinating and well illustrated.

Internet References:

Distinguished Women of Past and Present: Mary Davis Treat.

Mary Lua Adelia Davis Treat

Literature Reference:

Bonta, Marcia Myers. 1991. Women in the Field: America's Pioneering Women Naturalists, Texas A. & M. University Press.

Past "Women in Science" links:

Ann Haven Morgan:

Arabella Buckley:

Maria Sibylla Merian:

Elizabeth Gifford Peckham:

Lise Meitner:

Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin:

Beatrix Potter:

Libbie Hyman:

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 05:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Backyard Science, SciTech, J Town, and History for Kossacks.

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