Earth Notes - Florence Merriam Bailey

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Florence Merriam Bailey

In the Victorian era, most woman interested in nature enjoyed the great outdoors from a lawn chair, not astride a horse. But naturalist and writer Florence Merriam Bailey defied convention throughout her long and eventful life.

Born Florence Augusta Merriam in New York State in 1863, she was baby sister to C. Hart Merriam. He would become a renowned biologist and pioneer of the life zone concept and Florence's lifelong mentor.

As a young woman, Florence was horrified by the use of bird feathers on women's hats. Finding live birds far more interesting than dead ones, she wrote her first book: Birds Through an Opera Glass. Its title bespeaks the device she thought birdwatchers should use rather than the shotguns that were common at the time.

Battling tuberculosis, Florence made frequent trips west for the healthful dry air. On her brother's advice, she traveled in the summer of 1894 to the "San Francisco mountain country in Arizona." Here, she bought a horse and wandered delightedly in the forest. With brother Hart, she made her first trip to Grand Canyon by wagon.

At age thirty-six, Florence married biologist Vernon Bailey, a colleague of her brother's and a man she'd known for years. The couple continued working into their elder years doing fieldwork in Grand Canyon.

From those halcyon days, this gentlewoman in 1939 published her last book, Among the Birds in Grand Canyon Country. She died in 1948, having left her mark as a dedicated conservationist unfazed by the dictates of her day.

-Rose Houk