Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Herbarium #2 White Oak for Jane Loring Gray


Herbarium Block #2
White Oak for botanist Jane Loring Gray by Becky Collis 

Jane Lathrop Loring Gray (1821-1909) botanizing in Colorado in the 1870s,
a little Photoshopping on a picture by William Henry Jackson

Jane Loring's mother Anna Brace Loring who died when Jane was 15 was Sarah Pierce's niece. See last month's post on Block #1 about the Litchfield Female Academy:   

Jane never attended the Pierce's school but did spend time visiting her great Aunts and Uncle John Pierce Brace in Litchfield, Connecticut. Uncle John who taught botany to the Litchfield girls must have had quite an influence as Jane became a life-long botanizer. 

White Oak by Denniele Bohannon

Asa Gray  (1810-1888) in 1841

In her early 20s Jane found Bostonians "lecture mad" and joined in, attending a talk on botany in 1842 at the Lowell Institute by Asa Gray, a new professor of Natural History at Harvard. They shared a love of science and cataloguing and after a 5-year courtship became engaged.

A good botanist, Jane labeled everything.

"I suppose she would not be called handsome, but she has a face beaming with good temper and full of intelligence... Possesses all the usual accomplishments of persons in her station, but is most remarkable for a well-cultivated mind, and for her excellent practical powers." Asa Gray on his affianced.

Jane wrote to her Litchfield Aunt Mary about Asa. Jane didn't think he was that good looking either but, "He is quite distinguished as a botanist; & is held in very high esteem by all his friends & acquaintances."

White Oak by Barbara Brackman

The Grays' house on the left, photographed in the 1890s

They married in May, 1848 and Jane became partner to one of the world's leading botanists. Without children she served as his librarian, fundraiser and housekeeper of the Harvard Botanic Garden in which they lived. Cambridge became the American center of botanizing.

In June, 1861, Benjamin Brown French and his brother "walked all about the town after tea and viewed the magnificent residences. Cambridge is a lovely place."

Members of The Banks Brigade in 1863

At the beginning of the Civil War Jane invited 16 young ladies over to meet Asa's visiting niece 17-year-old Julia Bragg and to sew clothing, medical supplies and bedding for soldiers. The Cambridge girls vowed to meet weekly during the War. Read a post on the Banks Brigade soldiers' aid society (later The Bee) at this post:

Ad 1858

The Grays' books became standard text books for teaching botany in the 1850s. Although she is rarely given unseemly credit, Jane did acknowledge writing portions and certainly acting as his administrative assistant.

White Oak by Becky Brown

The Block

Three of the eight similar quilts have this simple leaf block in the same coloring, although
the Shelburne Museum's, which has the embroidered plant names, does
not include it. So we have to guess at a name.

We might guess the leaf is Quercus alba or the White Oak, a tree quite common in the eastern half of the United States.

Asa Gray (and Jane) kept their own Herbarium cataloguing 200,000 plants. Still at Harvard.

The White Oak is a simple version of a common 4-way arrangement of vegetation.

Robyn Gragg turned everything into a pentagon for her

Did the Grays influence the women who made our similar Herbarium quilts?

Girls did not go to Harvard, so would not have had Asa Gray for a teacher, but women attended lectures and visited the campus garden. Perhaps the unknown, influential sewing/botany teacher who seems to have directed our quilts had a copy or two of the Gray textbooks.

Read more about Jane Loring Gray here:

From her husband's obituary:
"For 40 years he has planted the seeds and borne almost single-handed the burden of the botanical harvest. It would be difficult to point to any other scientific man, with the single exception of Charles Darwin, who has in his own department of learning so entirely impressed himself upon the intellectual growth of a nation."

Becky Collis's got her Herbarium top done. Here's the lower right
corner with Blocks 1 & 2. That green is hard to capture on my computer.


1 comment:

Martha said...

Jane Loring Gray, as you noted, was probably denied credit she deserved in her husband's illustrious career. Asa did get a US stamp in 2011: .