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Darwin Correspondence Project

Emily Jane Pfeiffer


Welsh-born poet. Née Davis. Married Jurgen Edward Pfeiffer, a German tea merchant resident in London, in 1850. Published several works of poetry, beginning in 1857, including a volume on her travels in eastern Europe, Asia, and the United States in 1884. Interested in the position of women in society.

Further Reading

Further Information:

Emily Jane Pfeiffer née Davis (1827-1890) was a poet. In her childhood, her family lacked the resources to send her to school, but her father encouraged her to paint and write poetry. In 1842 Pfeiffer published her first book, The Holly Branch, an Album for 1843. In 1850 she married tea merchant Jurgen Edward Pfeiffer. Throughout her life Pfeiffer remained a prolific writer, publishing several books and compilations of poems.

After reading Charles Darwin’s Descent of Man (1872), Pfeiffer wrote Darwin to question his description of sexual selection; she took issue with the idea that birds had sufficient aesthetic sophistication to select their partners based on beauty. Instead, Pfeiffer thought it plausible that birds select partners that they find aesthetically fascinating or alluring. Darwin agreed that Pfeiffer’s use of the term "fascination" was appropriate to describe the mechanism by which sexual selection functioned. Upon her death in 1890, Pfeiffer’s money went to her sisters, women’s education, and an orphanage.

Relevant Gender Resources:

Primary Sources:

Darwin Correspondence Database,

Darwin Correspondence Database,

Secondary Sources:

"Emily Jane Pfeiffer." Orlando, Cambridge University Press. 〈

Jessica Hinings, "Pfeiffer , Emily Jane (1827–1890)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 〈




ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.