In the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest in the natural sciences and collecting botanical specimens became an obsession with scientists as well as the more fashionable and well-to-do sectors of society.
Most science at the time was considered unseemly for women; in the poem The Unsex’d Females (1798), the Reverend Richard Polwhele warned that, “in scrutinizing the sexual parts of the flower, [women] were indulging in acts of wanton titillation”. Therefore asexual seaweed was a safe way for women to indulge in specimen collecting under the guise of craftwork.
Some women became so skilled and knowledgeable in the field that their work was regularly written up in scientific journals, typically though, male scientists published women’s work under their own name, only occasionally crediting the women.
Today the collections these women made have found their way into herbaria across the world. They are greatly valued by modern day scientists who can learn a lot about our changing environment by having high quality early specimens to refer to.