Lydia Moore (Hart) Green, Illustrator for The Fishes of Illinois

The first edition of The Fishes of Illinois was published in 1908 by the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History, representing several decades’ work to document species, distributions, and ecology. The work features detailed, color paintings of fishes attributed to Lydia M. (Hart) Green and Charlotte M. Pinkerton. The first edition included 55 images representing 53 species, with 20 images representing 18 additional species added for the 1920 second edition. Images were not credited to specific artists in either edition.

Illustration of a fish.

Large Mouthed black Bass. Forbes, S.A. and R.E. Richardson. Fishes of Illinois. 1908. Illustration by Lydia Moore (Hart) Green. Digitized in BHL by University Library, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Most of the originals were kept by State Laboratory (now Illinois Natural History Survey) and are being reviewed in preparation for accession into the University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Artists have been identified for most color plates in the 2 editions: 33 by Green, 24 by Pinkerton. Three paintings bearing the name of Max Bihn (one published) were also found among the paintings long assumed to be the work of Green and Pinkerton alone. Green routinely applied a distinctive signature in ink to the front of her work.

Lydia Hart signature

Signature from Lydia Hart’s Fundulus notatus (INHS image 2181).

Lydia Moore (Hart) Green, was born in Quincy, IL in December 1864. She and Charles Arthur Hart, employed by the State Laboratory 1895-1918, were siblings. Lydia studied Art and Design at the University of Illinois during the 1887-1888 school year. Warrants listed in the Report of the Board of Trustees beginning in 1888 show Lydia was paid for tasks including “work in cabinets,” “work in museum,” “labelling specimens,” “making chart,” and “botanical drawings.” When artist A.M. Westergren left the State Laboratory in 1892, Lydia replaced him. Her illustrations appear in the Bulletin of the State Laboratory of Natural History, Reports of the State Entomologist, and elsewhere. Her 101 detailed illustrations of insects were a noted feature of the State Laboratory’s exhibit at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. She was frequently mentioned as an asset to the State Laboratory in Stephen A. Forbes’ reports to the Trustees. In 1898, Forbes secured for her a salary of $20.00 per month, or 35 cents per hour with additional pay possible if hours exceeded what the base salary would cover.

Work on illustrations for The Fishes of Illinois began in the summer of 1900.[1] Lydia worked at the Biological Station at Meredosia, where there was an aquarium set up to house her live models. Her work was supervised by the State Laboratory’s ichthyologist, Thomas Large.

In a letter to Forbes dated 30 June 1900, Lydia negotiated her pay, based on comparisons with the pay of her mentor, Westergren, and a Mr. Baldwin.

“But you know how inaccurate his drawings are—practically useless so far… It must be admitted that he was a fast worker, but his rapidity seems to have been largely the result of carelessness and was small gain in the end. In conclusion it would seem that $100 or 70c per hr. would be as low as fairness would permit and 60c the very lowest to be considered. From: Chief’s Correspondence, 1871-1909. University Archives. Series Number: 43/1/1

She was referring to A. H. Baldwin, who had received payment for fish drawings and specimens around this time. Baldwin was the illustrator of The Fishes of North and Middle America (Jordan & Evermann, 1900), which Forbes cited as a key reference for the Fishes of Illinois. Subsequent correspondence indicates Forbes was not swayed, and may have been offended.

In December 1900, Lydia traveled to Stanford University to work on illustrations for a work by Jordan on Japanese fishes, and Lydia’s illustrations are acknowledged in papers published by Jordan after this visit. Lydia wrote Forbes on 5 April 1901 from Palo Alto, sharing Jordan’s approval of her eel drawings and her observations on the speed of fellow illustrators there (Mrs. Sparks, and A. H. Baldwin). She also asked Forbes to send examples of her best work “the red fin, the garmani, and the plate of young bass for the purpose of getting criticisms from Hudson, who is expected soon.” In the same letter, she asked about resuming work on the Illinois fish, and the pay.

Illustration of an eel

The blotched snake-eel (Ophichthus erabo), synonym microdonophis erabo. Jordan, D. S. A review of the apodal fishes or eels of Japan, with descriptions of nineteen new species (1901). Illustration by Lydia Moore (Hart) Green. Digitized in BHL by Smithsonian Libraries.

Illustration of a puffer fish

The guineafowl puffer or golden puffer (Arothron meleagris), synonym Tetraodon meleagris. Jordan, D. S. A review of the gymnodont fishes of Japan (1902). Illustration by Lydia Moore (Hart) Green. Digitized in BHL by Smithsonian Libraries.

On 17 June 1901 in Urbana, Lydia married entomologist E. C. Green. In August, she was at the Illinois Biological Station in Ottawa working on fish illustrations, and reported to Forbes that, at his request to reduce expenses, she has given up her room in Ottawa for a much smaller one. Forbes had apparently offered 50 cents per hour plus expenses, but by September, the agreement was adjusted to $10 per finished painting, and Lydia was asking to have her expenses covered when there were no fish available to draw. Work on the fish illustrations continued through 1907, but Lydia left in 1902 for Texas when her husband took a position at Texas A&M. By January 1902, Forbes was seeking a replacement illustrator, and had contacted Charlotte M. Pinkerton through Seth E. Meeks at the Field Museum. The Chicago Tribune published a feature on Lydia and her work on 1 June 1902 that told the story of her discovery by the artist at the State Laboratory (presumably Westergren) and gave Lydia’s endorsement of scientific illustration as “admirable for feminine students”.

Illustration of an early 20th century woman

Lydia Moore (Hart) Green. Freeland Tribune. (Freeland, Pa.), 11 July 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Source: Image originally appeared in a feature in the Chicago Tribune, “An Illinois woman who paints insects”.

After leaving her position at the State Laboratory and Illinois, Lydia visited Urbana regularly according to reports in the Daily Illini. She returned to Urbana to live in 1917, but I did not find evidence of further work for the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History. Her husband was at this time working in Brazil on cotton insect control, and she made several extended visits there, applying for her first passport in 1918 for this purpose.

Photograph of an early 20th century woman

1918 passport photo of Lydia Moore Hart Green, United States Passport Applications, 1795-1925. Source:

In 1930, Green produced fish illustrations for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Nine years after Lydia’s death (in 1948), these images were published in Trautman, M. B. Fishes of Ohio with illustrated keys. Ohio State University Press, 1957.

[1] Stephen Alfred Forbes, report dated September 20, 1900 published in the 21st Report of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

Photograph of a woman with gray hair and a checkered shirt.
Written by

Susan Braxton has served as a librarian for the Illinois Natural History and Prairie Research Institute since 2006. In her current position, she provides support to Institute staff with emphasis on scholarly communication and publishing, repository services, and data stewardship. Prior positions included Science Librarian at Illinois State University and Technical Information Specialist for the Biological Control Documentation Center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She has a B.S. in Botany from the University of Florida, an M.S. in ecology from North Carolina State University, and an M.L.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.