By Leanna Feder
Mar 22 2019
Alice Eastwood was a self-taught Canadian-American botanist. After graduating from high school in 1879 she went on to become a teacher, botanizing in her free time and investing her small salary. After 10 years she had securred enough funds to retire from teaching and persue botany full time.
A visit to the California Academy of Sciences in 1891 lead to a job offer by Katherine Brandegee, Head Curator of the Herbarium at that time. When Brandegee stepped down in 1894, Eastwood became the sole Curator and Head of the Botany Department, a position she held until her 90th birthday.
Eastwood was immensely dedicated to the expansion and upkeep of the Academy’s botanical collection during her 50 year tenure. Early in her carrer, Eastwood instituted the unconventional proceedure of filing the type specimens separately from the general collection, an act that allowed her to save a large portion of the collection from destruction. Immediately after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Eastwood went to the Academy and found the herbarium building nearly in ruins. With the help of a friend, Eastwood was able to save 1,497 type specimens, lowering them down by rope as the neighboring building burned. The fire eventually destroyed most of the Academy’s collections.
As a new building was being constructed, Eastwood traveled and studied throughout Europe and the United States, including some time at the New York Botanical Garden. She eventually dedicated herself to rebuilding the collection and by the time she retired in 1949, the Academy's collection numbered over 340,000 plant specimens.
Her expeditions included trips to Alaska, Arizona, Baja California, British Columbia, Utah, and all throughout California.