As we celebrate the role women have played in the natural history sciences, we can find many examples of successful women who have been under-appreciated for the meaningful work they did during their lives. Women like Maria Sibylla Merian, Mary Margaret Smith, and Evelyn Cheesman significantly advanced a variety of sciences, even if they have only recently been gaining attention for doing so. But historic relegation of women has also meant that countless people throughout history were denied the tools to achieve success in these fields. How many women could have been published artists or scientists, if it weren’t for societal expectations that never gave them the chance?
Within the collections of rare botanical texts and seldom seen manuscripts housed at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation is a beautiful work by a largely unknown artist, Dorothea Eliza Smith. Her Fruits of the Lima Market – a collection of watercolors that she completed between 1850 and 1853 – stands out as an exemplary creation made even more impressive by her relative obscurity and the sparse details of her life.