Mycologist, writer (1866 - 1943)

She was the first child of Rupert and Helen Leech Potter, born July 28, 1866 in London, England. She is known today for her wonderful children's stories. Just about everyone is familiar with the tale of Peter Rabbit. During her later years she was widely respected throughout England as an expert on fungi, although the Royal Society did refuse to publish at least one of her technical papers. She showed that algae and fungus belong to the same family, studied spoor germination and life cycles of fungus.

From many walks in the woods she amassed a set of detailed watercolors of fungi. The collection (some 270 completed by 1901) is in the Armitt Library, Ambleside, England.

It took many years for her idea about the fungus to be accepted as correct. She was also quite interested in sheep breeding and became a judge at local sheep fairs. Her scientific work was not accepted during her lifetime, and discouraged she left science behind for her books for children. Around the time of her death in 1943 many of her notes, including her paper on spores, were burned during the bombing of London in WWII. She kept a private journal which wasn't published until 1966. The reason for this is that it was written in a code of her own invention. The code was broken by Leslie Linder, an engineer. Once the code was broken it took him seven years to decipher Beatrix Potter's journal. In the journal she details her attempts to have her theories and drawings noticed, usually to no avail. Perhaps if Beatrix Potter hadn't been so shy, and if the male scientists at the Royal Botanical Gardens hadn't been so dismissive, we would not have her legacy of Peter Rabbit. Having received posthumously an official apology from the Linnaean Society for its treatment of her (they scoffed at her idea that lichen were a symbiotic form), at a meeting held in her honor in 1997, exactly one hundred years after it had barred her from speaking, she is now beginning to receive the recognition she so richly deserves.

You can find her story, "The Tale of Mr. Tod" in an electronic version with images at The University of Virginia Electronic Text Library

"The Secret Life of Beatrix Potter" (in Natural History, Vol 81, p38, Oct 1972) is a good source of information on her secret diaries and her attempts to have her scientists take her ideas on fungi seriously.

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