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Darwin Correspondence Project

Referencing women’s work

Darwin's correspondence shows that women made significant contributions to Darwin's work, but whether and how they were acknowledged in print involved complex considerations of social standing, professional standing, and personal preference. George Romanes in his 1882 publication Animal intelligence referred to the contributions of 'a young lady, who objects to her name being published'.

A general set of selected letters is followed by letters relating to Darwin's 1881 publication Vegetable mould and earthworms.

Selected letters

Letter 1113 - Darwin to Whitby, M. A. T., [2 September 1847]

Darwin questions Mrs. Whitby, whom he had previously met at a meeting of the British Association, on the difference in flight capacity between male and female silkworm moths. He also requests the results of experiments she has undertaken to determine the heritability of dark “eyebrows”. She and her work are referenced throughout Variation.

Letter 2395 - Darwin to Holland, Miss, [April 1860]

Darwin writes to Miss Holland to request information on birds which eat the berries of the Mountain-Ash. Her work appears to be referenced in Variation but her identity is both anonymised and masculinised.

Letter 3316 - Darwin to Nevill, D. F., [12 November 1861]

Darwin asks actress and hot-house owner Lady Dorothy Nevill to send him some unusual plant samples to aid his work on orchids. Nevill is referenced by name for her “kindness” in Darwin’s Fertilisation of Orchids.

Letter 4038 - Darwin to Lyell, C., [12-13 March 1863]

Darwin hints that his daughter, Henrietta, may have felt uncomfortable about being acknowledged publicly as a science critic.

Letter 4370 - Wedgwood, L. C. to Darwin, [April - May 1865]

Darwin’s niece, Lucy, passes on her and her sisters’ observations on oxlips, made at their home in Surrey. His nieces’ work is referenced in Different Forms of Flowers but they are identified only as “friends in Surrey”.

Letter 4794 - Darwin to Lyell, C., [25 March 1865]

Darwin asks Charles Lyell for advice on how to reference Arabella Buckley’s observations of pigeons, which he planned to use in Variation. He is unsure whether to state that the information was “received through Sir C. Lyell” or received from “Miss. B”.

Letter 7060 - Wedgwood, F. J. to Darwin, [1867 - 72]

Darwin’s niece, Frances, sends her uncle reading materials relevant to his work on language for Expression. Frances' contribution was referenced in the final publication.

Letter 7223 - Darwin to Wedgwood, L. C., [9 June 1867 - 72]

Darwin asks his niece to make observations of her dog when barking. Her observations are not cited in Expression.

Letter 5817 - Darwin to Huxley, T. H., [30 January 1868]

Darwin asks Henrietta Huxley to make observations of her children and comments that another woman from his neighbourhood is making similar observations on his behalf. The observations made by numerous women of their infants are not referenced in a section of Expression on ‘the screaming and weeping of infants’. The only observer of infants identified by name in Expression was novelist Elizabeth Gaskell for her description of a crying baby in Mary Barton.

Letter 8321 - Darwin to Litchfield, H. E., [13 May 1872]

Darwin consults his daughter, Henrietta, about how best to reference her husband’s contribution to a chapter on music in Expression. If he should publish Litchfield’s remarks as his own he would “feel the public humming” at him.

Letter 7345 - Wedgwood, L. C. to Darwin, [15 June 1872]

Darwin’s niece, Lucy, reports back on her worm casting fieldwork. Her work was referenced in Vegetable Mould and Earthworms but she was identified only as “a lady, on whose accuracy I can implicitly rely”.

Letter 8427- Darwin to Litchfield H. E., [25 July 1872]

Darwin thanks Henrietta for her editorial work on Expression. While her husband's contribution to the same work was carefully referenced, Darwin made no mention of Henrietta’s considerable editorial input.

Letter 8719 - Darwin to Treat, M., [1 January 1873]

Darwin asks naturalist Mary Treat to make some observations of Drosera and Dionaea on his behalf. “Mrs. Treat’s” contributions to Darwin’s work are referenced throughout Insectivorous Plants, as are her publications.


Letters relating to Earthworms

Letter 7428 - Wedgwood, F. to Darwin, [4 January 1871]

Darwin’s brother-in-law, Francis Wedgwood, sends the results of his fieldwork on the depth of furrows in an old field near his house.

Letter 8168 - Ruck, A. R. to Darwin, H., [20 January 1872]

Amy Ruck reports the results of her fieldwork on furrows and earthworm activity undertaken around Machynlleth in Wales. She has dug a number of trenches, measured soil depths and tried, but failed, to find worm castings on the family’s croquet lawn. Ruck is not referenced by name in Darwin's discussion of earthworm activity in the fields of North Wales.

Letter 8193 - Ruck, A. R. to Darwin, H., [1 February 1872]

Amy Ruck sends a second report of her work on furrows and earthworm activity undertaken around Machynlleth in Wales. It is likely that the 15 degree slope that she has measured and recorded is the same one referred to in Darwin’s published discussion of earthworm activity.

Letter 8224 - Darwin to Ruck, A. R., [24 February 1872]

Darwin asks his “geologist in chief for N. Wales”, Amy Ruck, to provide observations and take measurements of hillside worm casting ridges. Ruck’s work on turf-covered slopes was possibly referenced, albeit anonymously, in Darwin’s discussion of turf-based worm castings.

Letter 7345 - Wedgwood, L. C. to Darwin, [15 June 1872]

Darwin’s niece, Lucy, reports back on her worm casting fieldwork. Her work is referenced in Vegetable Mould but she was identified only as “a lady, on whose accuracy I can implicitly rely”.

Letter 11221 - Darwin to Darwin, H., [1 November 1877]

Darwin asks his sons, Horace and Francis, to observe earthworm activity at the Roman antiquities of Chedworth and Cirencester. Horace and Francis’ fieldwork and observations are referenced in Vegetable Mould.

Letter 12742 - Darwin, H. to Darwin, [7 October 1880]

Horace writes to his father with information on worm-castings and worm activities at a house in St Tibbs Row. Darwin proudly referenced the work of "My son Horace" in Vegetable Mould.

Letter 12745- Darwin to Wedgwood, K. E. S., [8 October 1880]

Darwin asks his niece, Sophy, to keep an eye out for worm castings during her walks on the Heath. He fears the conditions may be “unfavourable” and suggests Lucy might join her. Sophy may be the “lady...interested in the habits of worms” referenced anonymously in Vegetable Mould.

Letter 12760 - Wedgwood, K. E. S. to Darwin, [15 October 1880]

Darwin’s niece, Sophy, reports that she has “been up on the common after the worms”. She reports her findings and passes on the results of Lucy’s worm casting work. Darwin refers to work conducted on a heath in Surrey but does not identify the workers in question.

Letter 13037 - Darwin to Darwin, W. E., [5 February 1881]

Darwin discusses William’s findings relating to the action of worms drawing in leaves to their burrows. William’s work is proudly referenced in Vegetable Mould.