Porter, Edna M. | An accomplished high school botanical manuscript

  • A delicately illustrated botanical manuscript produced by a high school senior who went on to collect and identify hundreds of plants.

    Edna Melinda Porter was born in 1860, the daughter of prominent Buffalo architect Cyrus Kinne Porter (1828-1910). This notebook was produced during the spring of her senior year at Buffalo High School in 1881, with some of the contents dated to February and March. Porter went on to Cornell University, where she studied architecture (the Buffalo Architectural History website 2016, retrieved via the WayBack Machine). She must have continued to develop her interest in botany, as according to the Binomia database she was responsible for collecting 452 plant specimens, all but one now in the collections of the Buffalo Museum of Science (see also Rudolph, “Women Who Studied Plants in the Pre-Twentieth Century United States and Canada”, Taxon vol. 29, no. 2, May 1990).

    The notebook contains numerous drawings of plants, some depicted in multiple stages of development, in cross sections, or as seen through the microscope. In many cases the drawings illustrate particular concepts in botany, for instance the structures of reproductive organs or how leaves are classified. A number of them depict flowers carefully “exploded” into their different parts. The accompanying text covers a variety of topics, mainly in the form of questions posed by the teacher, from basic information about plant structures and development to more philosophical questions on how species are defined and how botany should be approached as a science. At the end of the manuscript there are sections devoted to specific plants, including four pages on the classification of orchids, a half page on fern reproduction, and a page on mosses. A loosely inserted sheet gives detailed instructions for tree grafting accompanied by three illustrations, and there are also four pages of French language lessons.

  • Buffalo, NY, 1881.

    Composition notebook bound in pebble-grain burgundy skiver, black paper backstrip, black paper label with gold title to upper board. Contents lined in blue. Ownership inscription of Edna M. Porter, with her address and the initials of her high school on the front free endpaper. 56 pages of drawings and manuscript text primarily in pencil but also red ink, some with tissue guards pasted in, an additional small leaf with manuscript and drawings on both sides loosely inserted, 23 blank pages. Each page of contents hand-numbered. Wear and loss from the binding, particularly the spine and top right corner, boards connected only by the stitching, front free endpaper and two leaves of contents loose but none lacking.