Botanist Alice Eastwood: a snapshot biography


Born in Toronto, Canada in 1859, Alice Eastwood experienced loss and much struggle in her youth, beginning with the passing of her mother when Alice was six years old. Her father, experiencing financial hardship and unable to care for his children, sent Alice to live with other family members and then to a convent.

Alice Eastwood
Alice Eastwood

At fourteen, she moved back in with her father, who was now living in Denver. There she attended high school, graduating as the valedictorian of her class.

Without means to attend college, Alice became a teacher at her alma mater. But in her spare time she explored botany, a love which developed from her time living with an uncle and from a priest at the convent, both of whom were amateur botanists. She studied from botany manuals, collected samples and set up exhibitions. Her knowledge led to opportunities and in the early 1890’s, after her collection was reviewed by the Curator of the Botany Department at the California Academy of Sciences, she received a job offer, which she accepted. Shortly after, in 1894, Alice became Head of the Department of Botany.

Years later, after the earthquake in 1906, when buildings were collapsing and fires starting, she rushed from her home while ignoring her own personal belongings to save what she could at the herbarium. Alice and a colleague were able to save nearly 1,500 specimens of plants and numerous books from the building.

After the earthquake, she spent time traveling and researching at other institutions in the U.S. and Europe. She returned to the Botany Department when the California Academy of Sciences re-opened in 1912, where she stayed until retiring in 1949. During these years she led the effort to add 340,000 specimens to the herbarium.


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“A snapshot biography of botanist Alice Eastwood” sources: 

“Alice Eastwood.” – National Park Service / “How passion, luck and sweat saved some of North America’s rarest plants” by Susan Milius – Science News / Alice Eastwood papers, Special Collections, California Academy of Sciences Library, San Francisco, CA / Wetherill Archives, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument /