Emily Jane Pfeiffer

1827–90

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.

Sources: ODNB. (See the bibliography for full references to sources)

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:

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/women-and-science

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/women-as-a-scientific-audience

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwin-and-gender-introduction

 

Primary Sources:

Darwin Correspondence Database, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-7411

Darwin Correspondence Database, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-7719f

Secondary Sources:

“Emily Jane Pfeiffer.” Orlando, Cambridge University Press. ⟨ http://orlando.cambridge.org/public/svPeople?person_id=pfeiem

Jessica Hinings, “Pfeiffer , Emily Jane (1827–1890)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 ⟨http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22084