Parsons, Frances (Theodora Smith)Dana

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PARSONS, Frances (Theodora Smith)Dana

Born 5 December 1861, New York, New York; died 10 June 1952, Katonah, New York

Wrote under: Mrs. William Starr Dana, Frances Theodora Parsons

Daughter of N. Denton and Harriet Shelton Smith; married William S. Dana, 1884 (died); James R. Parsons, Jr., 1896 (died); children: one son, one daughter

Frances Dana Parsons was brought up and educated in New York City. During summers, she developed her lifelong love of the outdoors at her maternal grandparents' home at Newburgh. After the loss of her first husband, a naval officer many years her senior, Parsons turned to nature writing. She gave up writing after 1899 to devote herself to other interests. After the accidental death of her second husband, an educator, in 1905, Parsons became a campaign worker in the suffrage movement. With the success of the campaign, she moved into Republican politics. Parsons had two children, a son and a daughter.

Parsons' most popular work was How to Know the Wildflowers (1893). Basically a guidebook arranged by flower colors, it not only describes a plant and gives botanical data but also tells where to find it. Parsons was not an authority on flowers, but she saw that a guidebook was needed and proposed the project to her publishers. The 1890s saw the real beginnings of the conservation movement, which today dominates popular nature sentiment, and the book was the first of many such books published during the decade.

According to Season (1894) is a collection of essays about wildflowers that first appeared in the New York Tribune. This volume makes a nice supplement to the more scientific How to Know the Wildflowers, with informal descriptions of the flowers.

The study of botany by children was especially encouraged in the 19th century. Plants and Their Children (1896), a charming, informal volume, is Parsons' contribution to this field. In a series of essays on topics like "Seed Sailboats," she introduces the child to botany and nature study in an interesting and unpatronizing way.

During the early years of her second marriage, Parsons' husband had financial problems, and so she wrote a companion volume to her wildflower guide, called How to Know the Ferns (1899). This volume was well received. Perchance Some Day, Parsons' privately printed autobiography, was published in 1951. This book gives insight into the life of a gifted, spirited woman of the Eastern aristocracy, but does not dwell on her personal life. Instead, Parsons portrays a way of life and tells inside stories of political intrigue. As an intimate of the Roosevelt family, she was well placed to talk about the jockeying for position that went on in state Republican circles. Occasionally, she comments on the position of women or their interests, often seeming surprised at the lack of masculine support for women's rights. Parsons was not a serious botanist or naturalist, but her organizing abilities, thoroughness, and common sense made her books successful. Politics and nature make an interesting combination in her writings.


NYT (11 June 1952).


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Parsons, Frances (Theodora Smith)Dana

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