Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Quaker Entomologists

The interest of 18th and 19th Century Quakers in observing the natural world led to a flourishing of Quaker scientists, particularly in the fields of botany, meteorology and astronomy – as well as a small but influential group of entomologists.

Thomas Say (1787 – 1834) was an American apothecary and a self-taught naturalist. In 1812 he became one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He made scientific expeditions to many parts of the North American continent, studying and describing insects and shells. In his book, American Entomology, Say described more than a thousand species of beetles, hitherto unknown, as well as many other insect species and seven species of snake.

In 1825, Say became involved with a attempt by the Scottish social reformer, Robert Owen, to establish a Utopian community in Indiana called New Harmony based on the principles of cooperation, brotherly love and universal education. Although the Utopian community quickly failed, New Harmony did become a centre for scientific learning. Say is buried there.

Edward Newman (1801 – 1876) was a British entomologist. Despite leaving school at sixteen, he was a founder member of the Entomological Club, a member of the Linnean Society and a founder of the Entomological Society in 1833. He was the first editor of The Entomological Magazine (later The Entomologist). He did important work on the classification of British insects into natural orders. He also worked on dinosaur fossils and suggested that Pterosaurs could be warm blooded and covered in hair – an idea disputed in his time but surprisingly close to modern theories. Like other Quakers in the early part of the 19th C, Newman appears to have been sceptical about Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution.

The two brothers Henry Doubleday (1808-1875) and Edward Doubleday (1811– 1849), were born into a Quaker family in the east of England and were cousins of the horticulturalist Henry Doubleday, for whom the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic) was named. The two brothers spent much time during their childhood observing and collecting insects in Epping Forest.

Edward Doubleday is best known as a lepidopterist and author of The Genera of Diurnal Lepidoptera. However he also travelled to New York state where he collected and catalogued insects, including several new species of stonefly. He is almost certainly the first naturalist to use sugar to attract moths for study.

His brother, Henry Doubleday wrote the first catalogue of British butterflies and moths, Synonymic List of the British Lepidoptera and named a number of new species of moth, as well as writing Nomenclature of British Birds. Newman described his as “knowing more about butterflies and moths than all the other Entomologists in the Kingdom.”

Mary Townsend (1814-1851) was from a prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia. She suffered from a recurring illness that caused her to temporarily lose her sight. She was fascinated by the behaviour of insects and while bedridden in 1844 wrote Life in the Insect World, or Conversations upon Insects, Between an Aunt and her Nieces. It was a book aimed at children which became popular with adults too. Her work influenced other women scientists, including her friend Graceanna Lewis (see below) and Swedish naturalist Fredrika Bremer.

Townsend was also an anti-slavery campaigner, and with her sister wrote an alphabet for schoolchildren promoting the abolitionist message. The preface to the book, written “To Our Little Readers”, tells children they have the power to fight slavery by, among other things, talking to their friends and boycotting slave made goods. Definitions in the books include
B is for Brother with a skin of darker hue
V is for the Vessel in whose dark and noisome hold,
hundreds of Africans are brought o’erseas and sold.
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Further Reading and Credits

Henry and Edward Doubleday: The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors by Michael A. Salmon, Peter Marren, Basil Harley