Mary Katharine Brandegee

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Mary Katharine "Kate" Brandegee (October 28, 1844 – April 3, 1920) was an American botanist known for her comprehensive studies of flora in California.


Brandegee was born Mary Katharine Layne on October 28, 1844, the second child of Mary Morris Layne, a housewife, and Marshall Layne, a farmer.[1] The Laynes lived in western Tennessee and had nine other children.[2][3][1] Her family, already peripatetic, moved to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, though Marshall chose to farm;[2] they settled in Folsom, California when Kate was 9.[1] In 1866, 22 years old, she married Hugh Curran, a constable; in 1874, he died of alcoholism.[2][3] She did not marry again until 1889, when she wed Townshend Brandegee; they shared a love of science as she was a botanist and he was a civil engineer and plant collector. Brandegee died on April 3, 1920, in Berkeley, 76 years old.[2][3]

Career and legacy[edit]

The year after Curran died, Brandegee moved to San Francisco to attend medical school at the University of California, becoming the third woman to ever matriculate there.[3] There, she studied medicinal plants and became interested in botany. She received her M.D. in 1878 but chose not to practice.[2] She and Townshend collected over 100,000 specimens that they donated to the herbarium at the University of California, Berkeley.[3] Instead, the botanist Hans Hermann Behr took her on as a student and she began to work at the California Academy of Sciences. From 1883 to 1893, Brandegee took Alice Eastwood as a student while holding the position of the academy's botany curator; Eastwood succeeded Brandegee as the curator. After her second marriage, Brandegee traveled with her husband and collected plants throughout California, Arizona, and Mexico.[3] The couple founded and published the California Academy of Science's bulletins as well as the Western botany journal Zoe.[2] As she traveled, she found that several newly discovered species were actually not distinct. Her specimens also allowed later scientists to precisely determine the ranges of plants in the Western US.[1]


  • Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2002), International Encyclopedia of Women Scientists, Facts On File, ISBN 0-8160-4381-7 
  • Ogilvie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000), The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, ISBN 0-415-92040-X 
  • Yount, Lisa (1999), A to Z of Women in Science and Math, Facts on File, ISBN 0-81603797-3