Ethel Zoe Bailey

By Matthew C. Pace

Mar 10 2022

Ethel Zoe Bailey (1889–1983), was the first curator of the Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, serving in that role from 1935 to 1957. A graduate of Smith College, Bailey also curated the Horticultural Catalogue Collection at Cornell, and was the first woman in Ithaca, New York to earn a driver's license.

Ethel was the daughter of renown American botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858–1954), a specialist on Arecaceae (palms), Rubus (raspberries), and Cyperaceae (sedges). L.H. Bailey was a major supporter of women’s education and their inclusion in science. As Dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture, he appointed the College’s first women professors: Anna Botsford Comstock, Martha Van Rensselaer, and Flora Rose.

Ethel Zoe Bailey worked with L.H. Bailey as a co-worker, editor, and field assistant, and her name is credited on many of the specimens he collected. Ethel and Liberty both had a strong interest in horticulture, with a focus on breaking down the barriers between horticulture and formal botany. She made substantial contributions to the publication of Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture and Manual of Cultivated Plants, coauthored Hortus, and edited the first eight volumes of Gentes Herbarum. After her retirement as a curator, Ethel continued to volunteer her time to working in the Hortorium, and she continued her monumental index to the world’s cultivated plants until her death in 1983. She was well-known for mounting specimens while listening to the opera on the radio.

During her life Ethel travel across the globe, from upstate New York, to New Zealand, Europe, China, Japan, Brazil, the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean. Her many contributions to the fields of Botany and Horticulture were recognized by her being awarded the George Robert White Medal of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1967, and the Smith College Medal in 1970. Her curation of the Bailey Hortorium at Cornell contributed to it becoming one of the largest and most important collegiate herbaria in the United States.


Bates, D. M. 1989. Ethel Zoe Bailey, 1889-1983. Baileya 23: 1-4.

Engst, E., et al. 2004. Liberty Hyde Bailey: A Man for All Seasons. Cornell University Library Exhibition, Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University. (Accessed: 23 Feb 2022)

Costantino, G. 2015. Leading Ladies in the World of Seeds: Part Two. Biodiversity Heritage Library. (Accessed: 23 Feb 2022)