Anna B. Comstock Biography
A Love Affair with Nature
Anna Botsford Comstock, 1874. John Henry and Anna Botsford Comstock Papers, 1833-1955.
Courtesy of the Division of Rare Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
If you enjoy learning about nature, you should thank Anna B. Comstock. Anna was a pioneer in teaching children about nature.
Growing up on a farm in New York, Anna saw first-hand the wonders of nature. Her mother instilled in young Anna a love of learning. Her father encouraged her to continue her schooling, which was not common for girls in the 19th century.
When Anna was ready for college, Cornell University began enrolling female students. Anna lived nearby. So with 36 other women, Anna joined 484 male students. She took a course in zoology - the study of animals. The teacher was John Comstock, whom Anna married some years later.
John wrote books about insects. Without formal training, Anna illustrated his books. She would study an insect under a microscope and then draw it. A French scientist described Anna's sketches as "magnificent...by the hand of a master." Anna also learned wood engraving, which is carving a picture on a wood surface. Her work was shown across the country. People raved about its "accuracy" of detail.
Anna worked to get people to love nature. She taught teachers how to teach nature classes. She also prepared materials for them to use. In 1911, she wrote the Handbook of Nature Study. It covers all living things - except humans. The book also covers non-living things such as rocks and minerals. Even today, readers still learn from this book.
Anna was invited to teach at her alma mater - Cornell University. For devoting herself to the study of nature, Anna received many honors. She was selected for Sigma Xi, the national society for the sciences. The National Wildlife Federation inducted Anna into the Conservation Hall of Fame. The Federation's mission matched Anna's: to train people to "enjoy nature through seeing how creatures live rather than watching them die."
- Randy Allen