Women's Scientific Practice in Botany

Home Education Unit Plans Women and Science Women's Scientific Practice in Botany

Women's Scientific Practice in Botany

This lesson focuses on primary sources from women's botanical textbooks from the early 1800's. Teaching science and literacy today, through the use of these old texts, allows students to think critically about their own studies while comparing and contrasting their work to the primary source text. This method also includes a hands-on approach to looking at history, science, and language arts as students will create herbaria similar to those created by the women at the emerging female academics as well as read and recreate nineteenth century poetry.  Learning the parts of a plant and poetry are important classroom topics, therefore, by acknowledging the similarities and differences between textbooks written in the 1800's and texbooks today, students will convey a deeper understanding of the subject matter and connect their learning to the broader context of history.

The primary sources used in this lesson are from textbooks written by Almira Lincoln Phelps and used at multiple female academies, including Troy Female Seminary. The primary sources explain how to create your own herbarium as well as how to identify the different parts of a flower in nineteenth century terms. Student will have an unique experience by combining, literacy, history, and science to complete this lesson. They are expected to compare and contrast the nineteenth century textbook to their own studies of plant classification and poetry. The end result will be the creation of a herbarium and poetry book similar to those created by women in the 1800s. 

Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?


Students will be able to:

  1. understand the context of female education and why it was important to the history of the United States.
  2. compare and contrast primary sources to modern studies in plant classification and poetry.

Primary Sources

Other Materials

Primary Sources to Print:

Familiar Lectures on Botany PDF

Botany for Beginners PDF

Poetry from Almira Lincoln Phelps Textbooks

For this lesson, students will need scissors, a piece of paper, and dried plants.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

  1. Begin this lesson by following the instructions from “preparing a herbarium” in the primary source Familiar Lectures of Botany. The plants will need a couple days to dry; therefore plan accordingly to dry the plants prior to introducing the rest of the lesson. Use newspaper and textbooks to press the flowers until dry.
  2. Provide students with a brief background on female education and the Troy Female Seminary, now called the Emma Willard School, which opened its doors in 1821. Information for teachers can be found through Encyclopedia Brittanica at http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/606900/Troy-Female-Seminary or by using the book “Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic” by Mary Kelley. This institute was one of the first to provide females with an education comparable to men’s academies. Many of Almira Phelp’s famous works were written in response to her students; it is at Troy that she first tested her work.
  3. Explain to students that women used botany as a useful tool, and knowledge of plants was important for a variety of chores ranging from administering medicine to cooking. Ask the students to think of ways they might use plants or flowers now in their household.
  4. Next, review the parts of a flower with students by using Botany for Beginnerby Almira Phelps,  Ask students to observe the primary source. What do they notice that is the same and different from previous lessons on plants? Place a flower of the students' choice on the board. Have each student draw the flower on a piece of paper; then label it using Phelps’s classification terms.
    1. Create a vocabulary worksheet for students for reference based on the text. Make sure to review words such as root, stamen, style, corolla, petal, filament, filum, anther, pistil, receptacle, calyx, and germ.
  5. Finally, give each student a sheet of paper on which to place their dried plant and, again, follow the herbarium instructions to properly cut the paper to secure the plant firmly. Allow each student to be responsible for his or her own page. Students should identify the name of the flower/plant at the top of the page, and teachers can help by modeling an example. Once each page is complete, hole punch the left side and tie each page together to create a class book.
  6. Lastly, students should create poetry to add to their page as many women in the nineteenth century would do. As a supplement to the lesson, show students the poems that went along with the text. These can be found as a printable PDF.  Begin with the poem about Water Lilies. Ask students to read the poem.  Then decide the rhythmic pattern of the poem and write down each of the rhyming words. For example, the water lilies poem is ABAB. This poetry can be examined along with Emily Dickinson's poetry on nature to discuss how she would have read and recited these poems from Phelps textbooks, which influenced her later work.
    1. Repeat the following instructions with the other poems. Students may continue with the poetry in groups or individually based on class ability.
    2. If possible, have students identify any figures of speech they can find in the poems. Discuss the descriptive sentences and the language used to compare the flowers.


Anther: Part of the stamen that contains the pollen.

Calyx: The outer layer of a flower that supports the bud. Usually green.

Corolla: The petals of a flower that form the inner floral layer.

Filament/Filum: Means thread. It is part of the plant that produces pollen and consists of a slender stalk. The filament supports the anther.

Germ: A small structure that generally grows into something larger. Also sometimes called a seed.

Petal: The leaf that surrounds the center blossom. The petals make up the corolla. Usually brightly colored.

Pistil: Part of the female reproductive part of the flower.

Receptacle: Part of the plant that holds the pistil.

Root: Underground part of the plant that holds the plant in the ground so it can grow.

Stamen: The male reproductive part of the flower.

Style: Narrow elongated part of a pistil

*Vocabulary is the modern names used for plant parts found on www.vocabulary.com