Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey
Florence Merriam, 1904, Portrait from The Condor
Born (1863-08-08)August 8, 1863
Locust Grove, New York
Died September 22, 1948(1948-09-22) (aged 85)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Locust Grove, New York
Nationality USA
Fields Ornithology
Alma mater Smith College (attended, 1882–1886; awarded, 1921), Stanford University
Known for First modern field guide for birdwatchers, work in bird conservation
Notable awards Brewster Medal
Spouse Vernon Orlando Bailey

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey (August 8, 1863 – September 22, 1948) was an 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 1
    • Early life and family 1.1
    • Activism to protect birds 1.2
    • Field and regional ornithology 1.3
    • Later life and death 1.4
  • Affiliations and recognition 2
  • Selected publications 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6

Life and work

Early life and family

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] The youngest of four children, Florence's 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; the 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. Nevertheless, 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 relatively 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

At the time that Merriam became interested in birds, most bird study was based on 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

  • Works by Florence A. Merriam at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey at Internet Archive
  • Works by Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • The Florence Merriam Bailey Photograph Collection and Finding Aid from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • Journal from a trip to Maine, 1911, 73-page field book
  • Biography by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women
  • Portrait and capsule biography of Florence Merriam Bailey from The Condor 6:5 (September–October, 1904), p. 137.
  • Online guide to the Florence Merriam Bailey Papers, The Bancroft Library
  • Feather Trade: Audubon Movement includes a photograph of Florence Merriam Bailey

External links

  • Barrow, Mark V. (1998). A Passion for Birds: American Ornithology after Audubon. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  
  • Dunlap, Thomas R. (2011). In the Field, Among the Feathered: A History of Birders & Their Guides. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.  
  • Kofalk, Harriet (1989). No Woman Tenderfoot: Florence Merriam Bailey, Pioneer Naturalist. College Station, TX:  
  • Oehser, Paul H. (1971). "Bailey, Florence Augusta Merriam". In James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson; Boyer, Paul S. Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary I. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 82–83. 
  • Welker, Robert H. (1950). "Bailey, Florence Augusta Merriam". In Garraty, John A.; James, Edward T. Dictionary of American Biography. Supplement Four. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 41–42. 


  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.  
  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. ^ "DC Writer's Homes - An Online Guide to Where Authors Lived in the Greater Washington DC Region". Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  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. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 21.
  51. ^ Bailey, Florence Merriam (January 1916). "Characteristic Birds of the Dakota Prairies: III. Among the Sloughs and Marshes". The Condor 18 (1): 14–21.  
  52. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 29.
  53. ^ 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. Retrieved 7 June 2014. 
  54. ^ 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.  
  55. ^ Kofalk (1989), p. 168.
  56. ^ Oehser (1952), p. 26.
  57. ^ Contreras, Alan. "Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey".  . Retrieved January 27, 2014.


  • Merriam, Florence A. (1890). Birds Through an Opera-Glass. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.  
  • 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.  
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1896). How Birds Affect the Farm and Garden. New York, NY: Forest and Stream Publishing.  
  • Merriam, Florence A. (1898). Birds of Village and Field: A Bird Book for Beginners. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.  
  • 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. . Louis Agassiz Fuertes Plates by  
  • Bailey, Vernon; Bailey, Florence Merriam (1918). Wild Animals of Glacier National Park. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. .  
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam (1928). Birds of New Mexico. Santa Fe, NM: ." Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Plates and Text Figures by the Late Allan Brooks... Illustrated with Colored Plates by Wells Woodbridge Cooke "With Contributions by the Late  
  • Bailey, Florence Merriam (1939). Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon Country. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 

Selected publications

Bailey became the first woman associate member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1885 (nominated by her brother C. Hart),[52] its first woman fellow in 1929,[53] and the first woman recipient of its Brewster Medal in 1931, awarded for Birds of New Mexico.[54] In 1933, she received an honorary LL.D. degree from the University of New Mexico.[55] 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.[56] 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.[57]

Affiliations and recognition

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]

Later life and death

In a memorial essay, Paul Oehser favorably compared Florence Merriam Bailey's early books favorably 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."[50] 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."[51]

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.

The Baileys' first substantial research in the field in what was then New Mexico Territory came in 1903. For the next three summers, they crisscossed 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.

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]

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]

[38], and they became regular guests at the Washington residence.Margaret "Mardy" Murie and Olaus Murie The Baileys befriended the young naturalist couple [37] provided the centerpiece of the home's library, a painted portrait of a tiger in repose.Charles R. Knight The wildlife artist [36].Alice Eastwood and the botanist [35]Clarence Birdseye Among the visitors to the Baileys' home were the naturalist-turned-inventor [34][33] On December 18, 1899, she married

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]

Cover of Birds of Village and field

[30] In 1889, Florence made the first of many voyages through the western United States, traveling with her family to visit her uncle, Major

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]

Page showing illustrated key to bird identification

Field and regional ornithology

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.

[21] Meanwhile, she became active with the Committee on Bird Protection of the American Ornithologists' Union.[20]