Alexander, Annie Montague (1867–1949)

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Alexander, Annie Montague (1867–1949)

American naturalist who devoted her life to the fields of paleontology, botany, ornithology, and mammology. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1867; died in 1949; lived with Louise Kellogg.

Founded the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and the Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Annie Montague Alexander seems to have developed her wanderlust early in life. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, she spent her childhood on the exotic island of Maui, then moved with her family to Oakland, California, when she was 15. Her education included private schools and a tour of Europe, as was the prescribed path of most privileged young women around the turn of the century. Her father, a wealthy real-estate investor and avid traveler, often took his daughter along on his trips and tours. He was killed in an accident while on safari in East Africa, leaving a considerable fortune.

A friend, Martha Beckwith , an instructor at Mount Holyoke College, first interested Alexander in science. She began to attend lectures on paleontology at the University of California at Berkeley, and, by 1903, Alexander was heading up her own expeditions. These included a series of trips to Alaska, where she collected a large number of skulls of different mammal species. On one trip, she discovered a new subspecies of grizzly bear, Ursus alexandrae, which was named after her.

In 1909, Alexander collaborated with naturalist Joseph Grinnell to establish a natural history museum on the Berkeley campus, the first of its kind on the West Coast. She provided the funds while Grinnell became the museum's permanent director. That same year, Alexander also established the university's Department of Paleontology.

At the age of 41, Alexander met and began traveling with Louise Kellogg , then 28, and the two would remain close companions for the rest of Alexander's life. From 1911 to 1922, they lived on a farm on Grizzly Island in the California Suisun Marshes, raising asparagus and cattle. When Alexander was 53, the pair undertook another series of collecting trips, exploring the desert regions of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Arizona, often enduring primitive living conditions and intense heat, sometimes as high as 136 degrees.

In 1939, Joseph Grinnell died, and the two women turned their attention to botany, collecting over 17,851 botanical specimens for the University of California Herbarium, including a new and rare species of grass, named Swallennia alexandrae. Their further contributions to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology included specimens of 6,744 different animals, some new to science.

Alexander continued her travels into the wild with Kellogg until she suffered a debilitating stoke at 81. She died several months later. Kellogg continued to make collecting trips until her own death, 17 years later.

suggested reading:

Bonta, Margaret Meyers. Women in the Field: America's Pioneering Naturalists. College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 1991.

Reifschneider, Olga. Biographies of Nevada Botanists. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1964.


Alexander's papers reside at the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley; her field notebooks are located at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Alexander, Annie Montague (1867–1949)

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