Libbie Henrietta Hyman

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Libbie Henrietta Hyman

Libbie Henrietta Hyman (1888-1969) was a specialist in invertebrate and vertebrate zoology. She produced a six-volume set of reference books titled The Invertebrates.

Libbie Henrietta Hyman earned an international reputation for her monumental six-volume work on the classification of invertebrates. Although she considered her invertebrate treatise essentially a "compilation" of the literature, others have called it a remarkable synthetic work. Compiled by one independent woman with enormous knowledge of the field and a great facility for translating European languages, it represents a textbook of the invertebrate animal kingdom that whole academies might have attempted. Hyman's treatise consists of judicious analysis and integration of previously scattered information; it has had a lasting influence on scientific thinking about a number of invertebrate animal groups, and the only works that can be compared with hers are of composite authorship. Hyman also influenced the teaching of zoology classes nationwide with the publication of her laboratory manuals.

Hyman was born on December 6, 1888 in Des Moines, Iowa, the third of four children and the only daughter. Her parents were Jewish immigrants; her father, Joseph Hyman, came to the United States from Konin, Poland, at age fourteen, and her mother, Sabina Neumann, was born in Stettin, Germany. Hyman's childhood and youth were spent in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where her father kept an unsuccessful clothing store. Her home life was strict and without affection. Her father, twenty years older than her mother, worried about his declining fortunes and ignored his children, although he did have scholarly inclinations, keeping volumes of Dickens and Shakespeare, which Hyman read. In her brief autobiography, Hyman remembered her mother as being "thoroughly infiltrated with the European worship of the male sex." Her mother required her to do "endless housework" caring for her brothers, whom Hyman believed were "brought up in idleness and irresponsibility."

From an early age, Hyman demonstrated an interest in nature. She learned the scientific names of flowers from a high-school botany book that belonged to her brothers, and she made collections of butterflies and moths. She remembered being initially puzzled by classification, until she suddenly realized that the flowers of a common cheeseweed were the same as the flowers of a hollyhock. In 1905, she graduated from Fort Dodge High School. She was class valedictorian but had failed to attract the attention of her science teachers. Although she passed the state examination for teaching in the country schools, she was too young to be appointed to a teaching position and so returned to high school during 1906 for advanced studies in science and German. When these classes ended, she took a factory job, pasting labels on oatmeal cereal boxes.

On her way home from the factory one fall afternoon, she met Mary Crawford, a Radcliffe graduate and high school language teacher who was "shocked" to learn what she was doing. Crawford arranged for Hyman to attend the University of Chicago with scholarship money that was available to top students. "To the best of my recollection," Hyman said, "it had never occurred to me to go to college. I scarcely understood the purpose of college." At the university, she began a course in botany, but was discouraged by anti-semitic harassment from a laboratory assistant. Instead, she majored in zoology and graduated in 1910 with a B.S. degree. Professor Charles Manning Child, from whom she had taken a course during her senior year, encouraged her to enter the graduate program. As Child's graduate assistant, she directed laboratory work for courses in elementary zoology and comparative vertebrate anatomy.

Hyman was not free from family responsibilities, however. Her father had died in 1907; her possessive mother moved to Chicago with her brothers, and Hyman was again required to keep house for them and endure their continuing disapproval of her career.

Hyman received her Ph.D. in 1915, when she was twenty-six years old, for a dissertation entitled, "An Analysis of the Process of Regeneration in Certain Microdrilous Oligochaetes." She then accepted an appointment as Child's research assistant, a position she held until he neared retirement. Her work in Child's laboratory consisted of conducting physiological experiments on lower invertebrates, including hydras and flatworms. It was during this time that Hyman realized that many of these common animals were misidentified because they had not been carefully studied taxonomically. She became a taxonomic specialist in these invertebrate groups. Hyman's interest in invertebrates had a strong aesthetic component; she confessed a deep fondness for "the soft delicate ones, the jellyfishes and corals and the beautiful microscopic organisms."

During her time as a laboratory assistant, helping Child direct his classes, Hyman had felt that a better student guide book was needed, and now she wrote one. A Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology was published in 1919 by the University of Chicago Press. The first printing quickly sold out, and in 1929 she wrote an expanded edition. She also published, in 1922, A Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, which also enjoyed brisk sales. The second edition of this manual was published in 1942 as Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy. She was never excited about vertebrates, however, and she refused to consider a third edition. (The third edition was published in 1979, the work of eleven contributors.)

By 1930, Hyman had realized she could live on the royalties from the sale of her laboratory manuals, and she resigned her position in the zoology department, leaving Chicago in 1931 to tour western Europe for fifteen months. She never again worked for wages. When she returned from her travels, she settled near the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she lived modestly, close to the museum's "magnificent" library, determined to devote all of her time to writing a treatise on the invertebrates. In 1937, she was made an honorary research associate of the museum. Although unsalaried, she was given an office, where she placed food and water at the window for pigeons. The first volume of The Invertebrates appeared in 1940.

Hyman had always wanted to live in the country and indulge her interest in gardening. In 1941, she bought a house in Millwood, Westchester County, about thirty-five miles north of Times Square. She commuted to her work at the museum until 1952, when she sold the house and returned to New York City. Although she said that gardening and commuting had taken time away from her treatise, during those years of residence in the country she completed the second and third volumes, which were both published in 1951. At the museum, Hyman spent most of her time in the library. She read, made notes, digested information, composed in her head, and typed the first and only draft of her books on her manual typewriter. She also taught herself drawing, and her books contain her own illustrations. She apparently never had a secretary or an assistant. The fourth volume of the treatise was published in 1955, and the fifth in 1959.

Hyman loved music and regularly attended performances of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Her physical appearance had been altered by a bungled sinus operation in 1916, and to many she presented a brusque and formidable exterior, but she was not a recluse. She carried on a lively correspondence with scientists who sent her specimens or consulted her. She encouraged young scientists and contributed to charitable causes. She acquired a small, but valuable art collection, and made summer collecting trips to marine laboratories.

Hyman's recognition began with publication of her first invertebrate volume. The University of Chicago awarded her an honorary doctor of science degree in 1941, and honorary degrees followed from other colleges. She received the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1951, the Gold Medal of the Linnaean Society of London in 1960, and the American Museum presented her with its Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Science in April 1969, a few months before she died.

Hyman served as president of the Society of Systematic Zoology in 1959, and she edited the society's journal, Systematic Zoology, from 1959-1963. She was vice president of the American Society of Zoologists in 1953 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, the American Microscopical Society, the American Society of Naturalists, the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Society of Protozoologists. In addition to her books, she published 135 scientific papers between 1916 and 1966. Her early papers represent contributions to Child's physiological projects; her taxonomic and anatomical papers began to appear in 1925.

In the last decade o Hyman's life, her health was poor and her work on invertebrates had become more difficult. In 1967, at the age of seventy-eight and suffering from Parkinson's disease, she published the sixth volume of her treatise. She announced in its preface that this would be the last volume of The Invertebrates from her hands, although McGraw-Hill intended to continue the series with different authors. "I now retire from the field," Hyman wrote, "satisfied that I have accomplished my original purpose— to stimulate the study of invertebrates." She died on August 3, 1969.

Further Reading

Hyman, Libbie H., and G. Evelyn Hutchinson, " Libbie Henrietta Hyman: December 6, 1888-August 3, 1969," in Biographical Memoirs, National Academy of Sciences, Volume 60, 1991, pp. 103-14.

Rossiter, Margaret W., Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982, pp. 210-11, 294, 373, 374.

Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, editors, Notable American Women: The Modern Period, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1980, pp. 365-67.

Stunkard, Horace W., "In Memoriam: Libbie Henrietta Hyman, 1888-1969," in Biology of the Turbellaria, Riser, Nathan W., and M. Patricia Morse, editors, McGraw-Hill, 1974, pp. 9-13.

Winston, Judith E., "Great Invertebrate Zoologists: Libbie Henrietta Hyman (1888-1969)," in American Society of Zoologists, Division of Invertebrate Zoologists Newsletter, fall, 1991. □

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(b. Des Moines, Iowa, 6 December 1888; d. New York, New York, 3 August 1969), invertebrate zoology. For the original article on Hyman see DSB, vol. 17, Supplement II.

The final decade of the twentieth century saw new interest among zoologists in the history and development of their discipline over the course of the century. Hyman’s life and work were the subjects of a symposium held at the 1991 meeting of the American Society of Zoologists and were a part of a symposium on twentieth-century zoology at the Eighteenth International Congress of Zoology, 2000. Evaluations of her scientific contributions by participants in those events firmly established her as a major contributor in the following areas:

Laboratory Manuals . Libbie Hyman’s earliest contributions to zoology as a whole came in graduate school, when she developed laboratory manuals for the zoology and vertebrate anatomy classes at the University of Chicago. The Zoology Department was switching the emphasis of its student laboratories from the old typological approach to the newer comparative method, and no suitable laboratory manuals were available. Those Hyman created as a graduate student assistant were so useful to Chicago students that they were published by the University of Chicago Press (1919 and 1922) and remained in print for many years, her efforts instructing and influencing generations of zoology students.

Experimental Work . Hyman’s second contribution was the body of experimental work she produced during her sixteen years as Charles Manning Child’s assistant in the Zoology Department at Chicago. The physiological papers she published, while contributing to Child’s gradient concept of the regulation of development, also placed her work in a broader context of morphology, natural history, and systematics.

Flatworm Taxonomy . The third contribution was her work on flatworm taxonomy, studies she continued through most of her life. Her publications put the taxonomy of the group on a solid basis by incorporating the histology of body structures and copulatory apparatus in taxonomic descriptions. Hyman described twenty-seven new species and two new genera of land planarians and, perhaps even more importantly, encouraged young workers to study and publish in the field. She also produced a large body of work on other marine and freshwater Turbellaria, more than sixty papers in all. The phylogenetic framework she presented in the second volume of The Invertebrates has been improved, but not abandoned, by incorporation of new ultrastructural and molecular characters and by application of cladistic paradigms.

Role Model . Because of her publications, her position, even though unpaid, at the American Museum of Natural History, and her teaching in the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole) summer courses, Hyman became a model for young women interested in invertebrate zoology at a time when there were few women professors to serve as role models. As early as 1943 her biography appeared in a book intended to interest girls in careers in science, American Women of Science, by Edna Yost. Although sometimes abrupt with adult visitors who interrupted her work, Hyman always responded to queries from students. In addition, she supported some deserving students financially.

The Invertebrates . Her most important contribution was undoubtedly The Invertebrates. The six volumes’ abundant illustrations and uniform format, incorporating historical background, general characteristics, classification, morphology, physiology, development, ecology, and phylogeny for each group, ensured their value to zoologists. Monolingual North American zoologists appreciated her work for its summary and interpretation of the European zoological literature. But zoologists worldwide, even those who could read French or German, relied on her interpretation of that literature. The Invertebrates was not merely a compilation: each volume included new observations and drawings of living organisms made by Hyman herself during summer stays at marine laboratories, new information obtained from experts on each group, and the author’s own synthesis of phylogenetic relationships. Hyman’s zoological education at Chicago under the direction of Child and Charles Otis Whitman, both educated at Leipzig, had rooted her firmly in the comparative tradition begun in the 1860s in Germany and culminated in the transformation of morphology by evolutionism in the late nineteenth century. Her opus carried this approach, the “Chicago Style” of biology, with its emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology and whole organism research, forward into the era of the evolutionary developmental and systematic studies of the second half of the twentieth century.

The Invertebrates has become outdated because of the enormous amount of new information based on studies using scanning and transmission electron microscopy, molecular genetics, and other approaches unknown when the books were published. In the twenty-first century it is unlikely that one person could even attempt to accomplish such a review, but Hyman’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and tenacity in pursuing her goals continue to inspire biologists.


Jenner, Ronald A. “Libbie Henrietta Hyman (1888–1969): From Developmental Mechanics to the Evolution of Animal Body Plans.” Journal of Experimental Zoology302B (2004): 413–423.

Winston, Judith E. “Libbie Henrietta Hyman: Life and Contributions.” American Museum Novitates 3277 (1999): 1–66. Available from

———. “Libbie Hyman and Invertebrate Zoology in the 20th Century.” In The New Panorama of Animal Evolution, edited by Anastasio Legakis, et al. Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Congress of Zoology, Athens, Greece. Sofia, Bulgaria: Pensoft, 2003.

Yost, Edna. American Women of Science. New York: Stokes, 1943.

Judith E. Winston

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(b. Des Monies, Iowa, 6 December 1888; d. New York City, 3 August 1969)

invertebrate zoology.

Hyman was the third of four children born to Joseph Hyman and Sabina Neumann Hyman, who were recent Jewish immigrants. As the only daughter, Libbie was expected to do much of the housework and felt her early years were “devoid of affection and consideration.” Although she received no encouragement from her family, she found pleasure in schoolwork and was always at the top of her class. Her fascination with the natural world began with a love for wildflowers, which she hunted in the woods and then meticulously categorized according to the scientific classifications in a botany text.

After graduating from high school in 1905, Hyman worked in a factory, gluing labels on cereal boxes. A chance meeting with her high school German teacher (shocked to find her prize student so occupied) led to a scholarship to the University of Chicago. In 1906 she began a course of study to major in botany, but the anti-Semitism of a laboratory assistant caused her to switch to zoology. Hyman received her B.S. degree in 1910, then continued at Chicago under the direction of Charles Manning Child, receiving her 1915. she worked as Child’s assistant from 1915until 1931.Her reswarch centered on the physiology of planarian flatworms and other lower invertebrates. Although Hyman published more than forty articles during her years with Child, she never considered this work to be outstanding and did not classify herself as a “research type”.

As a graduate student Hyman supported herself by assisting in the introductory zoology courses, and she soon realized the need for good laboratory manuals. She published A Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology in 1919 and A Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy in 1922. Both books were very successful and were immediately adopted for use by many colleges. Indeed, from the time of her resignation as Child’s research assistant in 1931 to her death, Hyman never held a paid position, living entirely on the royalties from her books.

With the success of these laboratory manuals, Hyman began to contemplate writing a similar book on invertebrates to stimulate the teaching of her preferred subject. She was advised by colleagues that a more advanced textbook was needed, and planned a monograph covering the invertebrate phyla. In 1931 she left Chicago and traveled through Europe, where she visited the marine station at Naples. She returned in 1933, settling in New York City to begin writing her invertebrate treatise. She lived near the American Museum of Natural History in order to use its library, and was made an honorary research associate of the museum in 1937.She maintained this affiliation for the rest of her life.

Volume 1 of The Invertebrates, Protozoa through Ctenophora, was published in 1940. In the preface Hyman states that her intent is to “furnish a reasonably complete and modern account of the morphology, physiology, embryology and biology of the invertebrates.”She goes on to say, “It is obviously impossible for any one person to have a comprehensive first-hand knowledge of the entire range of invertebrates, and consequently a work of this kind is essentially a compilation from the literature.” Yet Hyman did much more than survey the world literature;she drew almost all of the figures herself from both live and preserved specimens and was an excellent histologist. Preparing tissue section herself. She traveled extensively to collect animals and spent many summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. She never had any secretarial help, typing all of the volumes on an old Underwood typewriter.

Hyman spent the rest of her life attempting to complete the McGraw-Hill series on the invertebrates. Volumes 2 (Platyhelminthes and Rhyncho-coela) and 3 (Acanthocephala, Aschelminthes, and Entoprocta) were published in 1951, volume 4 (Echinoderrnata) in 1955; volume 5 (Smaller Coe-lomate Groups) in 1959: and volume 6 (Mollusca 1) in 1967.

Hyman maintained an active research career and was considered the foremost authority on the taxonomy on North American turbellarian flatworms. She was outspoken in her belief that the identification of new species based on a single (often sexually immature) specimen was inadequate. Although she began her career by emphasizing small differences and creating new species based on them, as she continued with her work, she was “disposed to think that at least many planarian species tend to show extensive geographical variation and to exist as numerous races.”and she become an ardent taxonomic “lumper.”

Hyman never married. In 1941 she bought a house in the country in order to enjoy a large garden and daily commuted to the Museum of Natural History. She moved back to New York City in 1952 when she felt the need to spend more time on her writing. She became progressively debilitated by Parkinson’s disease and was confined to a wheelchair while working on volume 6.

Hyman belonged to many scientific societies, held office in the American Society of Zoologists and the Society of Systematic Zoology, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She edited Systematic Zoology from 1959 to 1963. Hyman was awarded the Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1951, the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society of London in 1960 (only the third American to receive this award), and the American Museum of Natural History’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in Science in 1969, just months before she died.


1. Original Works. A complete bibiography of Hyman’s works, compiled by William K. Emerson, is in Nathan W. Riser and M. Patricia Morse, eds., Biology of the Turbellaria (New York, 1974), vol. VII of the Invertebrate Zoology series.

II. Secondary Literature. A more complete biography of Hyman, written by Horace W. Stunkard, is included as a memorial preface to the above volume.

Rachel D. Fink

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HYMAN, LIBBIE HENRIETTA (1888–1969), U.S. invertebrate zoologist. Hyman was raised in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Despite opposition from her immigrant parents, she accepted a scholarship from the University of Chicago in 1906, receiving a B.S. in 1910 and a Ph.D. in 1915. Working as a research assistant in the lab of Professor Charles Manning Child, her doctoral advisor, she remained there for 16 more years until her mentor retired in 1931. While at Chicago, she published more than 40 research articles in her own name, as well as the highly successful A Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology (1919 and 1922) and A Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (1922 and 1942). Despite widespread recognition for her scientific accomplishments, no university would hire her, apparently because she was Jewish, a woman, and considered to be outspoken and abrasive. Living on the royalties from her popular manuals, Holman settled in New York City in 1932, where she began working on a survey of invertebrate morphology, physiology, embryology, and taxonomy, entitled The Invertebrates (i–vi, 1940–67). In 1937, Hyman became an honorary research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, an unpaid position that provided her with an office, laboratory space, and library access. She wrote her monumental six-volume study over a 20-year period without assistance or a salary, even drawing her own meticulous illustrations.

Internationally respected and widely published, Holman was an authority on flatworms and land planarian taxonomy. She served as president of the Society of Systemic Zoology in 1959 and edited its journal, Systemic Zoology, from 1959 to 1963. In 1939, after the publication of the first volume of The Invertebrates, she received an honorary doctorate of sciences from the University of Chicago; in 1954, the National Academy of Sciences awarded her the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal for her scholarship; and in 1960, she became the third American to receive a Gold Medal in Zoology from the Linnaean Society. In 1969, shortly before her death at the age of 81, the American Museum of Natural History awarded Holman a Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Achievement in Science.


P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, i (1997), 665–66; "Libbie Henrietta Hyman," in: Biographical Memoirs, vol. 60 (1991), 1033–114; R.E. Blackwelder, "Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Issue: Her Life," in: Journal of Biological Psychology 12 (1970), 1–23; J.E. Winston (ed.), Libbie Henrietta Hyman: Life and Contributions (1999).

[Harriet Pass Freidenreich (2nd ed.)]

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Libbie Henrietta Hyman


American zoologist who authored several widely used texts and reference works on invertebrate and vertebrate zoology during the 1920s and 1930s. Hyman received her doctorate in 1915 from the University of Chicago, where she worked for zoologist Charles Manning Child. Hyman's area of expertise was invertebrate zoology, and she became an authority on invertebrate taxonomy. She held an honorary research appointment at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and was highly regarded for her encyclopedic knowledge and elegant writing.