Youmans, Eliza Ann

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YOUMANS, Eliza Ann

Born 17 December 1826, Greenfield, Saratoga County, New York; died death date unknown

Daughter of Vincent and Catherine Scofield Youmans

Eliza Ann Youmans' father was a farmer and mechanic. As a young girl, she enabled her brother, Edward Livingston, to pursue his scientific studies despite his near blindness by reading to him and assisting in his experimentation; he founded and edited Popular Science Monthly, and a younger brother became a noted physician. Like her brothers, Youmans worked to disseminate scientific knowledge through writing and education. She hoped to establish botany as a fourth fundamental branch of education (with reading, writing, and arithmetic) to correct the "almost total lack of any systematic cultivation of the observing powers." Botany seemed the most suitable discipline to advance independent analysis and reasoned judgement because of its abundant and ever varying materials and precise vocabulary.

The First Book of Botany (1870) develops a new method of study founded on systematic observation and independent thought. It is copiously illustrated and written with the assumption that field samples are in hand. There were six editions of the book and a sequel for more advanced study, The Second Book of Botany (1873). This more close and thorough study introduces scientific notation; methods of gathering, pressing, and mounting specimens; and an explanation of plant processes. In the introduction, Youmans explains her wish to remedy the common faults of "carelessness in observation, looseness in the application of words, hasty inferences from partial data, and lack of method in the contents of the mind." The appendix, "On the Educational Claims of Botany," describes the natural laws of mental growth and their affinity to the study of botany.

To supplement the study of botany, Youmans adapted Henslow's Botanical Charts (1873) for American use by substituting native plants for English species not found in the U.S. and enlarging the diagram for classroom use. After the favorable reception of her translations in Popular Science Monthly of the lectures of Armand de Quatrefages de Breau on the newly established field of anthropology, the series was collected in The Natural History of Man: A Course of Elementary Lectures (1875). Again, her concern is for a basic discussion of important scientific disciplines. The unity of the human species, the antiquity and origin of man (in which the theory of evolution was refuted), and human races and cultures are covered. Youmans includes an essay explaining evolution to present a balanced treatment of a controversial issue. Youmans' interest in practical self-instruction and the systemization of basic skills led her to adapt the English handbook, Lessons on Cookery (1879); she includes an appendix on diet.

In Appleton's series of science textbooks, she combined her earlier works on botany in Descriptive Botany (1885) and abridged the series' sequel to her book Bently's Physiological Botany (1886). Youmans' commitment to the application of scientific knowledge to everyday life encompassed kitchen and classroom. She realized the potential value of systematic scientific study at an early age and of a general understanding of basic scientific principles, and her insights into the educational process are incorporated into teaching methods today.


Reference works:

AA. Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1889). CAL. A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors (1871). A Dictionary of American Authors (1905). A Dictionary of North American Authors Deceased Before 1950 (1951). NCAB. A Supplement to Allibone's Critical Dictionary (1891).