Elizabeth Blackwell

OK - let's jump right into the first amazing lady.


Elizabeth Blackwell

B. Early 1700s /D. 1758 British

Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Aberdeen in the early 1700s to a wealthy family, so she had a good start with access to a good 18th century education for a lady - this is a useful fact for later. She married her husband (Alexander Blackwell) & there are two notable thing about him - his dodgy business practices landed him in prison which is the reason Blackwell created A Curious Herbal & he was beheaded in Sweden because he didn’t learn any lessons in prison and was involved in a plot to change the line of succession to the throne.  Now onto her amazing achievements with the publication of A Curious Herbal in 1735.


Some Badass Reasons she should be remembered

  1. She was one of the first botanical illustrators draw, etch and colour all their plates.  Each of these elements on their own require a particular skills and techniques honed over years of practice, hence why a different person usually did each element.

  2. In addition to this she was also the first female to produce a herbal for scientific and commercial use

  3. The speed at which she worked was phenomenal - she created 4 plates every week until there were 500 images in total

  4. The publication “A Curious Herbal’ was the best herbal available to medical practitioners for a large number of years - a testament to how accurate Elizabeth was able to make the plates

Bonus Find

Sometimes I’ll throw these in here if I find something cool and/or amusing while researching that’s slightly off tangent to the actual topic at hand.  

This time is it’s amusing quote about botany by Reverend Richard Polwhele during a tirade against Mary Wollstonecraft (another kickass early feminist)

 ‘Botany has lately become a fashionable amusement with the ladies. But how the study of the sexual system of plants can accord with female modesty, I am not able to comprehend … I have, several times, seen boys and girls botanizing together’

Selection of Works

Find Out More

Botanical Art & Artists - Easy to read biography & plate examples
Wiley Online Library -  Academic text on Elizabeth Blackwell
British Library -  An amazing electronic copy of A Curious Herbal