history meme » 1/7 women » Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist, who is best known for her much-beloved children’s books. Born in 1866, she grew up in privilege and was educated by private governesses until the age of eighteen, delighting in the study of languages, literature, science and history. Her artistic talents were recognised and encouraged from a young age, and she spent many hours sketching and painting, as well as recording her thoughts in her journal using a code of her own devising.

She had a lifelong fascination with natural sciences, taking an interest in botany, geology and entomology, but her passion was mycology, the study of fungi. She was drawn to painting fungi because of their wide-ranging colours and shapes, but grew increasingly interested in the science behind them. Despite having no formal training, she became a talented scientific illustrator, conducted her own experiments and authored a paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae”.

She would often write letters to children she knew, entertaining them with stories and illustrations. One such story became her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which she first published for her friends and family at her own expense in 1901. That, in turn, led to a publishing deal and twenty-two more children’s books. A clever businesswoman, Potter was creating spin-off merchandise as early as 1903.

She became unofficially engaged to her editor, Norman Warne, in 1905, despite her family’s objections to Warne’s comparatively lower social status. Sadly, Warne died of leukaemia only a month later. The following year, Beatrix moved to a farm in the English Lake District.

She eventually married, started breeding Herdwick sheep, founded a nursing trust to improve local healthcare, and became a staunch supporter and benefactor of the National Trust’s land conservation efforts. When she died in 1943, she bequeathed fifteen farms and over 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust.

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    Every year, around Christmas time, the Morgan Library in NYC has an exhibit of her illustrated letters to children. THEY...
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