Mary Katharine Brandegee

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Mary Katharine Brandegee
Mary Katharine Brandegee.jpg
Born(1844-10-28)October 28, 1844
DiedApril 3, 1920(1920-04-03) (aged 75)
Berkeley, California
Alma materUniversity of California, San Francisco
Known forstudies of California flora
Scientific career
InstitutionsCalifornia Academy of Sciences
Author abbrev. (botany)Curran, K.Brandegee

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. She was the second child to Mary Morris Layne, a housewife, and Marshall Layne, a farmer.[1] The Laynes lived in western Tennessee and had nine other children.[2][3][4] Her family, already peripatetic, moved to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, though her father chose to farm;[2] they settled in Folsom, California when Brandegee was 9.[4]

In 1866, Brandegee married constable Hugh Curran and remained married to him until 1874, when he died of alcoholism.[2][3] She got married again 1889, to Townshend Brandegee; they shared a love of science as she was a botanist and he was a civil engineer and plant collector.[2][3] The couple walked from San Diego to San Francisco collecting plants for their honeymoon.[5]

Brandegee died on April 3, 1920, in Berkeley, 75 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] Botanist Hans Hermann Behr took her on as a student in 1879.[6]

Brandegee became a member at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. She collected plants throughout the state and worked in the Academy’s herbarium to continue her botanical training, working alongside Albert Kellogg.[5][6] As she traveled, Brandegee 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.[4] After Kellogg retired in 1883, Brandegee became the Academy's botany curator.[6] As curator, she turned her energy to improving the herbarium and took up writing and editing to establish and produce the Bulletin of the California Academy of Sciences. Brandegee was a systematic botanist who became impatient with submitting species to Gray for a botanical description.[1] As “acting editor” she provided botanists on the West Coast a way to publish their findings quickly instead of routing all new species naming through Asa Gray at Harvard, allowing for scientific independence.[1]

The Brandegees met H. W. Harkness at the California Academy of Sciences, and with him they founded the botanical journal, Zoe, in 1890. Zoe provided a platform for articles, reviews and criticisms of her contemporaries. [7]

In 1891, Brandegee took a pay cut to bring Alice Eastwood on board as a co-curator of the herbarium. Two years later when she resigned, Eastwood continued as the sole curator.[5][8] Brandegee and Townshend relocated in 1894 to San Diego. They settled in the Bankers Hill area and established a brick herbarium and San Diego’s first botanical garden on their property.[1] Together, they collected plants throughout California, Arizona, and Mexico.[3]

After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the couple moved back and donated over 76,000 specimens from their personal collection to the University of California, Berkeley.[5]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Carter, Nancy Carol (2011). "The Brandegees: Leading Botanists in San Diego" (PDF). Eden: Journal of the California Garden & Landscape History Society. 14 (4).
  2. ^ a b c d e f Oakes 2002, p. 40.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Yount 1999, pp. 24-25.
  4. ^ a b c Ogilvie & Harvey 2000, p. 171.
  5. ^ a b c d "» Katharine Brandegee: Blazing a Trail for Women in Science | NYBG". Retrieved 2015-11-19.
  6. ^ a b c "Brandegee, Katharine Layne (1844-1920) | University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley". Retrieved 2015-11-19.
  7. ^ Slack, Nancy G. (February 2000). "Brandegee, Mary Katharine Layne Curran". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  8. ^ "Biodiversity Heritage Library: Celebrating Women's History Month: Alice Eastwood". Retrieved 2015-11-19.
  9. ^ "Author Query". International Plant Names Index.