Mary J. Rathbun

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Mary Jane Rathbun
Mary Jane Rathbun working with crab specimens.
Mary J. Rathbun at work
Born (1860-06-11)June 11, 1860
Buffalo, New York
Died April 4, 1943(1943-04-04) (aged 82)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Alma mater George Washington University
Scientific career
Fields Carcinology
Institutions Smithsonian Institution
Influences Addison Emery Verrill, Sidney Irving Smith
Author abbrev. (zoology) Rathbun

Mary Jane Rathbun (June 11, 1860 – April 4, 1943) was an American zoologist who specialized in crustaceans. She worked at the Smithsonian Institution, often unaided, from 1884 until her death. She described more than a thousand new species and subspecies and many higher taxa.


Mary Jane Rathbun was born on June 11, 1860, in Buffalo, New York, the youngest of five children of Charles Rathbun and Jane Furey. Her mother died when she was only one year old, and Mary was therefore "thrown on her own resources".[1] She was schooled in Buffalo, graduating in 1878, but never attended college.[1]

Although no more than 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) tall, Mary Rathbun had strong features, and possessed a dry sense of humor.[1]

Rathbun first saw the ocean in 1881 when she accompanied her brother, Richard Rathbun, to Woods Hole, Massachusetts.[1]

He was employed as a scientific assistant to Addison Emery Verrill, alongside Verrill's chief assistant, the carcinologist Sidney Irving Smith. Rathbun helped label, sort and record Smith's specimens, and worked on crustaceans ever since.[1] For three years, Rathbun worked on a voluntary basis for her brother, before being granted a clerkship by Spencer Fullerton Baird at the Smithsonian Institution.[1]

She continued to work at the museum, largely unaided, and after 28 years, she was promoted to assistant curator in charge of the Division of Crustacea.[1] In 1915, after her retirement, the Smithsonian Institution designated Rathbun an "Honorary Research Associate", and in 1916 she was granted an honorary master's degree by the University of Pittsburgh. She qualified for a Ph.D. at George Washington University in 1917.[1]

She died in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1943,[2][3] at the age of 82, from complications associated with a broken hip.[1]


Rathbun in 1927

Rathbun's first publication was co-written with James Everard Benedict and concerned the genus Panopeus; it was published in 1891.[1] She retired on the last day of 1914, but did not stop working until her death.[1] Her largest work was Les crabes d'eau douce ("Freshwater crabs"), originally intended as a single publication, but eventually published in three volumes in 1904–1906.[1] She wrote or cowrote 166 papers in total, including descriptions of 1147 new species and subspecies, 63 new genera, one subfamily, 3 families and a superfamily, as well as other nomenclatural novelties.[1] The taxa first described by Rathbun include important commercial species such as the Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus,[4] and the tanner crab, Chionoecetes bairdi.[5]


A number of taxa have been named in honor of Mary J. Rathbun:[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Waldo L. Schmitt (1973). "Mary J. Rathbun 1860-1943" (PDF). Crustaceana. 24 (3): 283–296. doi:10.1163/156854073x00641. JSTOR 20101989. 
  2. ^ "Mary Jane Rathbun | American marine zoologist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-01-25. 
  3. ^ "Rathbun, Mary Jane (1860-1943), invertebrate zoologist | American National Biography". doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1302014. 
  4. ^ Michael Türkay (2010). "Callinectes sapidus Rathbun, 1896". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ Peter Davie (2010). "Chionoecetes bairdi Rathbun, 1893". World Register of Marine Species. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  6. ^ Hans G. Hansson. "Dr. Mary Jane Rathbun". Biographical Etymology of Marine Organism Names. Göteborgs Universitet. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ Peter K. L. Ng & Paul F. Clark (2003). "Three new genera of Indo-West Pacific Xanthidae (Crustacea, Decapoda, Brachyura, Xanthoidea)" (PDF). Zoosystema. 25 (1): 131–147. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-19. 

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