The Ames–Britton Connection

By Kenneth Reginald Otero-Walker, Matthew C. Pace

Mar 14 2023

Blanche Ames Ames (February 18, 1878 – March 2, 1969) was not only a remarkable illustrator of orchids, she also used her artistic ability to create portraits and political cartoons. This suffragist was also an early supporter of birth control. Wife of the orchid collector Oakes Ames, the two possessed the same surname yet were not related.

While Oakes Ames was convinced to study orchids by NYBG founder Nathaniel Lord Britton (Erlick 2005), Blanche Ames began her botanical career illustrating her husband’s specimens. When a feud over living in the house of Oakes Ames’s mother caused them to separate for a time, Oakes would plead with his wife return home, if only to complete the artwork necessary for a publication (Flannery 2019; Clark 1996).

Descended from a family of civil war veterans, Blanche would bring back the bell from a Cuban sugar plantation, mounting it at the top of the Ames estate of Borderland, in Massachusetts, where the toll of the bell could also remind them of the cruel toll of slavery. That sugar plantation is now the botanical garden of Cienfuegos (Jardin Botanico de Cienfuegos). According to a great grandniece of Blanche (DeCuir 2021), the Ameses would have the “slave bell at Borderland rung every night until women won the vote.”

Patrons of the New York Botanical Garden, Blanche and Oakes donated a large living collection to the Garden in 1906, and Oakes Ames would later describe and name the Cuban orchid Habenaria brittonae and the Caribbean orchid Ponthieva brittoniae in honor of Elizabeth Gertrude Britton. N.L. Britton and E.G. Britton collected the type specimen of H. brittonae on their 1910 expedition in Cuba, and Elizabeth collected the type of P. brittoniae in the Bahamas in 1905.

Herbarium specimens examined for this research were digitized as part of the “Biocultural Diversity Collections” Biological Collections Capacity grant, led by the New York Botanical Garden, and funded by the US National Science Foundation (award # 2140478).

Ames, O. (1912). Two Species of Habenaria from Cuba. Torreya, 12: 11.

Clark, A.B. (1996). My Dear Mrs. Ames: A study of the life of suffragist cartoonist and birth control reformer Blanche Ames Ames, 1878-1969.

DeCuir, M. (2021, May 13). Award-winning author weaves tales of 1st and 2nd wave feminism into a compelling, essential read. Books Forward.

Erlick, J. C. (2005). Orchid Herbarium of Oakes Ames. ReVista, 3(1). Retrieved March 5, 2023, from

Flannery, M. (2019, October 14). Living with Orchids: Blanche Ames. Herbarium World. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from