Victorian Women and Algology: The Case of Margaret Scott Gatty (1809–1873)

Seaweed collecting was one of the natural history ‘crazes’ of the nineteenth century. Many of the seaweed collectors were women from various social backgrounds whose observational skills and expertise were useful to male naturalists. From Mary Elizabeth Barber (1818–1899), who corresponded with William Henry Harvey (1811–1866) and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911) and sent them South African specimens of plants, to Amelia Griffiths (1768–1858), Isabella Gifford (1825–1891), Margaret Scott Gatty (1809–1873) and her daughter, Horatia Katherine Frances Gatty (1846–1945), who shared their knowledge and discoveries with William Henry Harvey, George James Allman (1812–1898) and George Forbes (1849–1936), these female algologists’ collections have often disappeared or been scattered due to lack of scientific recognition, while their scientific contributions are still overlooked by historians of science. This paper will focus on the case of Margaret Gatty, best-selling populariser of science, as illustrated by her British Sea-Weeds (1863), and famous children’s writer, and examine the Victorian woman’s presentation of her scientific activities as well as her construction of a scientific self.

Laurence Talairach is a Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès and an associate researcher at the Alexandre-Koyré Center for the History of Science and Technology (Paris). Her academic interests span medicine, natural history and British literature in the long nineteenth century. Her current research aims to map out the forms of natural historical knowledge produced by British women in the nineteenth century and examine the complexity of the relationship between scientific knowledge and popular representations, the construction of a learned/scientific female identity, the relationship of women naturalists to scientific expertise, and their place in the field of scientific knowledge.