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Female Entomologist: Edith Marion Patch (1876 – 1954)

posted Feb 20, 2014, 1:33 PM by Becky Fisher   [ updated Mar 27, 2014, 10:38 AM ]
While digitizing specimens in the collection, we gloss over thousands of names of collectors worldwide. Although the main intention is to map and study the lives of the insects, we have wondered if we were also mapping the lives of the collectors. This series is an opportunity to use the digitized collection to map the lives of women who have contributed to the American Museum of Natural History collection and the Tri-Trophic TCN project. Who were they? What are their stories?

Like many entomologists at the time, Edith Marion Patch’s first recorded interest was butterflies. In her senior year of high school she wrote an essay about monarchs that won $25.00. With her prize money she purchased the Manual for the Study of Insects written by John Henry Comstock and illustrated by his wife, Anna Comstock. The Comstocks were entomologists at Cornell University whom Patch would later befriend. 

Edith Patch attended the University of Minnesota in 1897 and graduated in 1901 with a Bachelor in Science. Despite her qualifications, she couldn’t find a job in entomology so she took a position teaching English at a high school in Minnesota for two years. Finally, in 1903, she was invited by Dr. Charles D. Woods to organize a Department of Entomology in Orono, Maine. Today UCBs Department contains digitized plant bugs collected by E.M. Patch in Orono, Maine. Three specimens of Cryptomyzus (Cryptomonyzis) ribis and five of Eirosoma ulmi are currently in the database.

EM Patch 1916  -

Initially, she wasn’t offered a salary and Dr. Woods was “ridiculed for appointing a woman in a man’s field” ( To earn a living wage, he arranged for Patch to teach English in the area while she organized the Entomology department. Within a year, Patch had proven herself to her male coworkers, established the department and earned herself a salaried position.

For her masters degree she attended the University of Maine in 1910. Although a few websites say that Patch earned her PhD from Columbia University, she actually attended Cornell University in 1911 for her doctorate. At Cornell she became colleagues with the Comstocks. 

In 1930, Patch became the first female president elected to the Entomology Society of America.She was ahead of her time in the early 1900s. It is said that she warned against the indiscriminate use of pesticides, such as DDT, forty years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) was published. She was concerned about the devastating impact pesticides would have on songbirds amongst other dangers. She was one of the original environmentalists and advocated for education of the natural world, especially for children. Despite her busy career in entomology, she also published books for children starring accurate, insect characters. She retired to her home in Orono, “Braeside," in 1937 as “Entomologist Emeritus” and lived there until she passed away in 1954.

Check out her children’s literature: Hexapod Stories, Bird Stories, Dame Bug and her Babies and Elm Leaf Curl and Wooly Apple Aphid

References & Suggested Further Reading:

Article by Becky Fisher: TTTCN Intern and Masters candidate at Columbia University in Museum Anthropology.