Elisa Caroline Bommer
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Elisa Caroline Bommer née Destrée (19 January 1832 in Laeken – 17 January 1910 in Brussels), was a Belgian botanist specialising in mycology, and was the wife of pteridologist and collector Jean-Édouard Bommer (1829-1895), who was professor of botany at University of Brussels in 1872.
Youth and marriage
In Elisa's youth her father was employed at the palace, giving her ample opportunity to enjoy the freedom of its large grounds and park. A palace governess, intrigued by her intelligence and wit, tutored her in English. When ten years old she was sent to a boarding school at nearby Vilvoorde, where she rued her loss of freedom, but finally adjusted to the new discipline and developed her talent for music. Her music was set aside in favour of a commercial career when she was twenty years old and her health soon suffered as a result of long hours spent at unfulfilling work. Knowing of her interest in botany, her family physician introduced her to Jean-Edouard Bommer, a botanist and fern specialist. Their friendship grew and they were married in 1865. One of their children, Charles (1866-1938), would later become a palaeobotanist.
Despite a growing and demanding family, Elisa was drawn further into the world of botany. In 1873 she met up with Mariette Rousseau who had similar interests. Jean-Edouard Bommer suggested the two friends study the local fungi, virtually untouched except for the work of Marie-Anne Libert (1782-1865), Gérard Daniel Westendorp (1813-1869) and Jean Kickx (1803-1864). Making full use of Kickx's Flore cryptogamique des environs de Louvaine and Flore cryptogamique des Flandres, and the Systema mycologicum of Elias Magnus Fries, they launched into an arduous and inspiring project. In this they were greatly helped by access to the library of the local Jardin Botanique.
A succession of monographs followed and were published in the Bulletin de la Societe Royale de Botanique de Belgique in 1879, 1884, 1886 and 1890. Their joint paper on Costa Rican fungi appeared in 1896, and dealt with material collected from 1887 by Henri François Pittier. They also worked on the fungi collected by the 1897-99 Belgian expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery to Antarctica, producing a report in 1905. Bommer expanded the scope of her studies by including the Netherlands and particularly The Hague and environs.
In her final years physical disability severely limited her activities, but never stopped her piano-playing, and embarked on
botanical painting, including fungi and flowering plants. On her death her mycological collection went to the Brussels Jardin Botanique and is currently housed at the herbarium in Meise.
She was commemorated in the genus Bommerella created by Élie Marchal (1839-1923).
- Rousseau, M., “Necrologie Madame J. E. Bommer, nee Elisa Destrée”, in: Bulletin de la Société royale de Botanique de Belgique, 47 (1910), 256-261.
- CREESE, Mary, Ladies in the Laboratory II: West European Women in Science, 1800-1900: A Survey of Their Contributions to Research, Maryland, 2004, 104-105.