Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey

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Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey
Florence Merriam, 1904, Portrait from The Condor
Born(1863-08-08)August 8, 1863
DiedSeptember 22, 1948(1948-09-22) (aged 85)
Resting placeLocust Grove, New York, United States
Alma materSmith College (attended, 1882–1886; awarded, 1921), Stanford University
Known forFirst modern field guide for birdwatchers, work in bird conservation
Spouse(s)Vernon Orlando Bailey
AwardsBrewster Medal
Scientific career

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey (August 8, 1863 – September 22, 1948) was an American ornithologist and nature writer. She was born in the hamlet of Locust Grove in Lewis County, New York. The youngest of four children, she was the younger sister of Clinton Hart Merriam. She organized early Audubon Society chapters and was an activist for bird protection. She wrote what is considered the first bird field guide in the modern tradition, Birds Through an Opera-Glass, published in 1890. Her extensive field work in the American West, often with her husband Vernon Bailey, was documented in several books, chief among them Handbook of Birds of the Western United States and The Birds of New Mexico.

Life and work[edit]

Early life and family[edit]

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey was born on August 8, 1863 in Locust Grove, near Leyden, New York.[1][2] Her parents were Clinton Levi Merriam and Caroline Hart Merriam.[3] Florence's three older siblings were her brother Clinton Hart (who was known as C. Hart to distinguish him from his father), sister Ella Gertrude (who died before Florence was born), and brother Charles Collins.[4] She grew up at her family's estate, "Homewood", on a wooded hilltop above her grandparents' home at Locust Grove.[5] She and her brother C. Hart (almost eight years her senior) were encouraged to study natural history and astronomy by their mother, father, and aunt Helen Bagg; both of them became interested in ornithology at an early age.[6] Florence's father was interested in scientific matters and was in correspondence with John Muir after he had met him at Yosemite in the summer of 1871.[7]

In her adolescence, Florence Merriam's health was somewhat fragile. She studied at Mrs. Piatt's private school in Utica, New York as a preparation for college.[8] Beginning in 1882, she attended Smith College as a special student, for which she received a certificate rather than a degree in 1886.[9] Her candidacy for a degree was recognized much later, and she received it in 1921.[10][11] She also attended six months of lectures at Stanford University in the winter of 1893–1894.[11][12][13]

The Merriam family, including Florence, often spent the more severe winters away from Homewood, in the milder climate of New York City.[14] On a spring vacation from college, they first made the acquaintance of Ernest Thompson Seton. Seton was an early influence on Florence, encouraging her preference for studying birds in life.[15]

Activism to protect birds[edit]

Portrait from Bird Lore (1916)

At the time that Merriam became interested in birds, most bird study was based on collections and skins; however, she was more interested in studying living birds and their behavior in the field.[16] Also at this time, it was fashionable among women to wear bird feathers on their hats. Repulsed by this custom, in 1885, Merriam wrote the first of several newspaper articles arguing against the practice.[17] In 1886, in collaboration with the like-minded George Bird Grinnell and classmate Fannie Hardy, she organized the Smith College Audubon Society (SCAS), a local chapter of Grinnell's nascent National Audubon Society.[18] The SCAS invited naturalist John Burroughs to visit, and in 1886 he participated in the first of a series of nature walks with the group.[19]

Once she moved to Washington, Merriam helped organize the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia in 1897, and she began teaching bird classes for that organization the following year.[20] Meanwhile, she became active with the Committee on Bird Protection of the American Ornithologists' Union.[21]

Bailey was dedicated to showing and telling people about the value of living birds, and continued to work for their protection. As a result of her efforts and others', the Lacey Act of 1900 prohibited interstate trade in wildlife that had been illegally taken, transported or sold. This was a first step in stopping the slaughter and decreasing the number of victims, especially among seabirds such as pelicans and grebes.[22] Eventually, more legislation, changing styles, and continued education stopped the killing of birds for hat decoration and clothing.

Field and regional ornithology[edit]

Page showing illustrated key to bird identification

Her introduction of a birdwatching field guide, focused on living birds observed in the field, is considered the first in the tradition of modern, illustrated bird guides. She published Birds Through an Opera-Glass at the age of 26, adapting a series of notes that first appeared in Audubon Magazine. The book described 70 common species.[23] Directed at women and young people, the work has been described as "charming, unpretentious, and useful."[24]

In 1889, Florence made the first of many voyages through the western United States, traveling with her family to visit her uncle, Major Gustavus French Merriam, at his homestead in San Diego County, California, called "Twin Oaks".[25] One purpose of the trip was the restoration of Florence's health. It is likely that she suffered from tuberculosis,[24][2] although her illness was never formally diagnosed as such.[26] A few years later, she traveled to Utah and Arizona in the company of Olive Thorne Miller. She described her experiences in My Summer in a Mormon Village. Unlike her other bird-oriented writing, this book was a travel narrative.[27] Her second trip to Twin Oaks, where she studied birds, mounted on horseback, resulted in the publication of A-Birding on a Bronco.[28] (This was the first book to be illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.[29]) On her return from the west, Florence made her home with her brother C. Hart in Washington, D.C., where she worked to organize local chapters of the Women's National Science Club.[30]

Cover of Birds of Village and field

Merriam followed up with a second bird guide of somewhat wider scope (more than 150 species) in 1898 with her Birds of Village and Field, another book written for the beginner.[31]

On December 18, 1899, she married Vernon Bailey, Chief Field Naturalist for the United States Bureau of Biological Survey and a colleague of C. Hart's.[32] After a few other residences, they built their home at 1834 Kalorama Road, N.W., in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington.[33][34] Among the visitors to the Baileys' home were the naturalist-turned-inventor Clarence Birdseye[35] and the botanist Alice Eastwood.[36] The wildlife artist Charles R. Knight provided the centerpiece of the home's library, a painted portrait of a tiger in repose.[37] The Baileys befriended the young naturalist couple Olaus Murie and Margaret "Mardy" Murie, and they became regular guests at the Washington residence.[38]

Florence's next accomplishment was a major work of ornithology and a complement to Frank Chapman's Handbook of Birds of the Eastern United States. Drawing on the best available published work, study of specimens with the assistance of Robert Ridgway of the Smithsonian Institution, 600 illustrations from numerous sources, and her own field work, she published Handbook of Birds of the Western United States in 1902.[39] The book would remain a standard reference in regional ornithology for at least 50 years.[33] Without sacrificing technical precision, the handbook included vivid descriptions of behaviors like nesting, feeding, and vocalization, information that has been de-emphasized in the literature that followed.[40]

The naturalist couple traveled widely and they were together responsible for encouraging many youngsters take up studies in natural history.[41] Over the next three decades, Florence and Vernon covered much of the American West. They explored southern California in 1907,[42] North Dakota (Florence visited in 1909, 1912, and 1916),[43] coastal Oregon in 1914,[44] and Glacier National Park in 1917.[44] The results of their field work in the park was published jointly in 1918 as Wild Animals of Glacier National Park.[45]

The Baileys' first substantial research in the field in what was then New Mexico Territory came in 1903. For the next three summers, they crisscrossed the region.[46] A decade later, with the death of Wells Cooke, Florence was called upon to complete Cooke's work on the region's bird life. Drawing on her field notes, she wrote her magnum opus, The Birds of New Mexico, which took another dozen years to see publication in 1928.[47] Florence's accomplishment was recognized with the Brewster Medal in 1931.

Florence had visited the Arizona Territory in the 1890s;[48] as a couple or alone, Florence returned for field work in what was now the State of Arizona several times during the 1920s.[49] Her last published work was Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon Country, published by the National Park Service in 1939, ten years before her death.[50]

In a memorial essay, Paul Oehser favorably compared Florence Merriam Bailey's early books to the writing of Muir and Burroughs, and he described her as "one of the most literary ornithologists of her time, combining an intense love of birds and remarkable powers of observation with a fine talent for writing and a high reverence for science."[51] Despite the energetic activity that she and her husband pursued, traveling cross country and hiking and packing everywhere, Florence Merriam Bailey's approach to the study of nature was one of gentle, quiet contemplation. She wrote, "Cultivate a philosophic spirit, be content to sit and listen to the voices of the marsh; let the fascinating, mysterious, bewildering voices encompass you and—hold your peace."[52]

Later life and death[edit]

Florence Merriam Bailey died of myocardial degeneration in Washington, D.C., on September 22, 1948. She is buried at the old Merriam home in Locust Grove, New York.[11]

Affiliations and recognition[edit]

Bailey became the first woman associate member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1885 (nominated by her brother C. Hart),[53] its first woman fellow in 1929,[54] and the first woman recipient of its Brewster Medal in 1931, awarded for Birds of New Mexico.[55] In 1933, she received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of New Mexico.[56] She was a founding member of the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia and frequently led its classes in basic ornithology. In 1908, Joseph Grinnell named a California subspecies of mountain chickadee Parus gambeli baileyae in her honor.[57] In 1992, a mountain in the southern Oregon Cascade Range was named Mount Bailey, in honor of Florence and Vernon Bailey, by the Oregon Geographic Names Board.[58]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Merriam, Florence A. (1890). Birds Through an Opera-Glass. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.60311.
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1894). My Summer in a Mormon Village. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1896). A-Birding on a Bronco. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.12539.
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1896). How Birds Affect the Farm and Garden. New York, NY: Forest and Stream Publishing. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.36220.
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1898). Birds of Village and Field: A Bird Book for Beginners. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.30028.
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam (1902). Handbook of Birds of the Western United States, Including the Great Plains, Great Basin, Pacific Slope, and Lower Rio Grande Valley. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.7872. Plates by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
  • Bailey, Vernon; Bailey, Florence Merriam (1918). Wild Animals of Glacier National Park. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.13645..
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam (1928). Birds of New Mexico. Santa Fe, NM: New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish in cooperation with the State Game Protective Association and the Bureau of Biological Survey. hdl:2027/mdp.39015019729311. "With Contributions by the Late Wells Woodbridge Cooke... Illustrated with Colored Plates by Allan Brooks, Plates and Text Figures by the Late Louis Agassiz Fuertes."
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam (1939). Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon Country. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved 30 December 2013.


  1. ^ Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7417, Bailey, Florence Merriam, 1863, Florence Merriam Bailey Papers
  2. ^ a b Welker (1950).
  3. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 5–6.
  4. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 7–11.
  5. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 11–12.
  6. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 3–11.
  7. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 19.
  8. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 20–21.
  9. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 23,39.
  10. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 155.
  11. ^ a b c Oehser (1971).
  12. ^ Richard H. Cracroft and Neal E. Lambert. A Believing People (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1974) p. 87
  13. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 60–61.
  14. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 40,53.
  15. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 26.
  16. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 11.
  17. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 31,205.
  18. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 34–35.
  19. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 36–37.
  20. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 81.
  21. ^ Dutcher, William (1898). "Report of the Committee on Bird Protection". The Auk. 15 (1): 81–114. doi:10.2307/4068463. JSTOR 4068463.
  22. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 90.
  23. ^ Barrow (1998), pp. 156–157.
  24. ^ a b Oehser (1952), p. 20.
  25. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 46–48.
  26. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 46.
  27. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 55.
  28. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 63–65.
  29. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 77.
  30. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 73.
  31. ^ Dunlap (2011), p. 26.
  32. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 87.
  33. ^ a b Oehser (1952), p. 22.
  34. ^ "Florence Bailey". DC Writers’ Homes. 28 November 2018. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  35. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 23.
  36. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 116.
  37. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 24.
  38. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 143,158,161.
  39. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 103–104.
  40. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 104.
  41. ^ Oehser (1952).
  42. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 119.
  43. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 130, 133.
  44. ^ a b Kofalk (1989), p. 138.
  45. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 143.
  46. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 111–112.
  47. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 146.
  48. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 72.
  49. ^ Kofalk (1989), pp. 149,170.
  50. ^ "Florence Merriam Bailey." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2004, pp. 443-444. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3404700387/GVRL?u=albu78484&sid=GVRL&xid=78539630. Accessed 16 May 2019.
  51. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 21.
  52. ^ Bailey, Florence Merriam (January 1916). "Characteristic Birds of the Dakota Prairies: III. Among the Sloughs and Marshes". The Condor. 18 (1): 14–21. doi:10.2307/1362890. JSTOR 1362890. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  53. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 29.
  54. ^ Palmer, T. S. (April 1930). "The Forty-Seventh Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, October 21-24, 1929" (PDF). The Auk. 47 (2): 219. doi:10.2307/4075926. JSTOR 4075926. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  55. ^ Palmer, T. S. (January 1932). "The Forty-Ninth Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists' Union, October 19-22, 1931" (PDF). The Auk. 49 (1): 52–64. doi:10.2307/4076702. JSTOR 4076702. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
  56. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 168.
  57. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 26.
  58. ^ Contreras, Alan. "Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey". The Oregon Encyclopedia.. Retrieved January 27, 2014.


  • Barrow, Mark V. (1998). A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691044026.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Dunlap, Thomas R. (2011). In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders & Their Guides. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199734597.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Edward, James T. (1971). Notable American Women, 1607–1950 : A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-1849722711.
  • Kofalk, Harriet (1989). No Woman Tenderfoot: Florence Merriam Bailey, Pioneer Naturalist. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 978-0-89096-378-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Oehser, Paul H. (1952). "In Memoriam: Florence Merriam Bailey" (PDF). The Auk. 69 (1): 19–26. doi:10.2307/4081288. JSTOR 4081288. Retrieved 5 January 2014.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Oehser, Paul H. (1971). "Bailey, Florence Augusta Merriam". In James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boyer, Paul S. (eds.). Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. I. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 82–83.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Smith, Shearer, Barbara; F., Shearer, Benjamin (1996-01-01). Notable women in the life sciences : a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313293023. OCLC 832549823.
  • Welker, Robert H. (1950). "Bailey, Florence Augusta Merriam". In Garraty, John A.; James, Edward T. (eds.). Dictionary of American Biography. Supplement Four. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 41–42.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]