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December 6: Libbie Hyman’s Inverterbrates

December 6, 2014

Libbie_Henrietta_Hyman_(1888-1969)_(5493881089)-1Libbie Henrietta Hyman, a major contributor to contemporary zoology who wrote her six-volume study, The Invertebrates, between 1940 and 1967, was born in a poor family in Des Moines, Iowa on this date in 1888. She was a research assistant for sixteen years to Professor Charles Manning Child at the University of Chicago and published more than forty research articles before creating two books, The Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology (1919, revised in 1929) and The Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (1922 and 1942). These were successful enough to enable her to live on royalties and become an honorary research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where she was given an office for life and continued her studies of invertebrates. The Museum awarded her its Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Achievement in Science four months before her death from Parkinson’s Disease in 1969. “My earliest recollections concern flowers,” she wrote in a biographical memoir published by National Academy of Sciences. “As a child I roamed the woods that bordered the town [Fort Dodge, IA], hunting the spring wild flowers. I learned their scientific names from a Gray botany book that my brothers had acquired in high school, but I puzzled over the classification until one memorable day when I suddenly realized that the flowers of a little weed known as cheeses had the same construction as hollyhock flowers.... I believe my interest in nature is primarily aesthetic.”

“I like invertebrates. I don’t mean worms particularly, although a worm can be almost anything, including the larva of a beautiful butterfly. But I do like the soft delicate ones, the jellyfishes and corals and the beautiful microscopic organisms.” —Libbie Hyman