Bailey, Florence (Augusta) Merriam

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BAILEY, Florence (Augusta) Merriam

Born 8 August 1863, Locust Grove, New York; died 22 September 1948, Washington, D.C.

Also wrote under: Florence Merriam

Daughter of Clinton and Caroline Hart Merriam; married VernonBailey, 1899

Daughter of a Republican congressman, Florence Merriam Bailey grew up in a country home in northern New York. Interested in nature and particularly bird life at an early age, she began to publish papers about birds while still a student at Smith College. She married Vernon Bailey, a naturalist, in 1899. There were no children. Bailey and her husband traveled and worked together, writing about the natural history of the West. In 1931 she received the Brewster Medal of the American Ornithologists' Union, and in 1933 the University of New Mexico awarded her an LL.D.

Throughout her life Bailey published many papers about birds in such periodicals as Audubon Magazine, and her first book,Birds Through an Opera Glass (1889), is based on her early papers. It tells of her experiences as a bird watcher and gives some advice on how to recognize birds. It was quite popular, appearing in various editions throughout the 1890s, during the period when publishers were trying to satisfy the rising national passion for the outdoor life. Bird watching, plant identification, and rock study were popular pastimes of a new class of American amateurs. The outdoor life in all its healthy aspects, especially when associated with the American West, took the place in popular fancy of earlier nature study which was seen as an extension of religious piety or simply aesthetic appreciation.

In 1902, after extensive travel with her husband in the West, Bailey published The Handbook of Birds of the Western United States, which remained the standard handbook in its field for about 25 years. A handsome book, organized by genus, this work is illustrated by the famous nature illustrator Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Perhaps her most significant work in ornithology, Birds of New Mexico (1928), was also illustrated by Fuertes. Bailey wrote about Western birds for some of her husband's books, such as Wild Animals of Glacier National Park (1918), and also published Birds of the Santa Rita Mountains in Southern Arizona (1923) and Among the Birds in Grand Canyon Country (1939). While Bailey was not a professional ornithologist who made specific contributions to the science, she was a highly competent writer on birds for both popular and professional audiences.

But Bailey's career was not limited to ornithology. Her interest in social welfare and her love of nature and concern for the conditions of her fellow humans are especially revealed in a short book she wrote while in Utah in the summer of 1893. My Summer in a Mormon Village (1894) describes the town as "a haven of rest," where she spent many delightful days listening to the reminiscences of the old pioneer Mormon women whom she characterized as good but suffering sisters. The intellectual poverty of their lives depressed her, although she knew they were not different in this respect from their female counterparts on back country farms.

"I recalled with a shudder the statistics I had known about the number of farmers' wives who go insane," she wrote. Although, at the time she visited, polygamy had been outlawed, it was still practiced and taught in the area. She had a chance to observe the effects of polygamy on the women, and she felt these were almost always negative. Polygamy had brought great suffering to the women, yet most of them continued to believe in it. As she put it, "The spirit that is finest and best in woman—her power of selfsacrifice in the face of abstract right—has been used as a tool of torture, and it will be used successfully until education teaches her that there is a higher light for her to follow." She was little more sympathetic when writing about other aspects of Mormon belief, presenting the prophets as some clever men who took advantage of the immigrant mentality for their own material and physical gain.

Bailey belongs to the first generation of writers who wrote about the life sciences for the popular audience. Her graceful writing style and practical knowledge combined to bring the life sciences out of the 19th century parlors into the outdoors, creating an easy transition for many readers.

Other Works:

A-Birding on a Bronco (1896). Birds of Village and Field (1898). Cave Life in Kentucky (1933).


Stille, D. R., Extraordinary Women Scientists (1995).

Reference Works:

Dictionary of American Biography, National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1892 et seq.). NAW, 1607-1950 (1971).