Florence Merriam Bailey

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Florence Merriam Bailey

A black and white portrait of a woman in a white dress.

Birth: August 8, 1863

Death:  September 22, 1948

Specialty: ornithology

Major Contributions:

Wrote the first modern bird field guide

Organized early Audubon Society chapters

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

National Bird Day in the U.S. is observed on January 5th. This is a day that celebrates birdwatching and endeavors to raise awareness of the hardships and plights faced by these animals.   In recognition, we’d like to introduce you to Florence Merriam Bailey.

Born in 1863, Bailey was encouraged to study natural history by her parents and became interested in ornithology at an early age.  She attended Smith College, and although she originally only received a certificate she was granted a degree 35 years later, in 1921.

When she began, most ornithology was done by collecting specimens or studying skins but Bailey was described as being on the forefront of using binoculars as opposed to shotguns to study birds.  As part of her drive to observe living birds she helped establish the Smith College Audubon Society,  one of the first chapters of the national organization, in 1886.  She later helped establish a chapter in Washington D.C., as well as a local chapter of the Women’s National Science Club.  

Bailey spent her life as an activist promoting the protection of birds, studying them at every opportunity.  In 1890, Bailey wrote and published Birds Through An Opera-Glass, a book that is considered the first modern bird field guide.  After traveling west to recover from tuberculosis, she wrote My Summer in a Mormon Village, A-Birding On A Bronco, and Birds of Village and Field.  Returning east to Washington D.C. she went on to write several more books with her husband, naturalist Vernon Bailey.  Those books include Handbook of Birds of the Western United States and The Birds of New Mexico.  She was the first woman awarded the Brewster Medal by the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1931 as well as being the first woman associate member of the union and its first woman fellow.   Bailey died in September of 1948, many of her papers are now kept at the Smithsonian Institution in D.C. and scans are available online.

Written by Mary Ratliff


Wikipedia: Florence Merriam Bailey

Encyclopaedia Britannica

New Mexico Ornithological Society

Smithsonian Institution Archives

See Also:

Avian Welfare Coalition National Bird Day

Smithsonian Institution Archives: Outstanding Women in Ornithology: Florence Merriam Bailey