A Curious Herbal: A Conversation with Janet Stiles Tyson


For nearly three centuries Elizabeth Blackwell (1699-c. 1758) has been recognized for etching the 500 full-page images of medicinal plants that are found in A Curious Herbal. Her intriguing story, joined to that of her hapless husband, made her an exemplary Victorian wife and helpmeet for 19th-century biographers. Since the early 20th century, however, Blackwell has been reinterpreted as a pioneering woman of natural science. Yet, this focus on her life and achievement has overshadowed the importance of the book, resulting in an accumulation of erroneous narratives.

The leading authority on Blackwell and A Curious Herbal, Dr. Janet Stiles Tyson will correct persistent Blackwell narratives and restore attention to her book as a scientific document. Having examined more than eighty copies of Blackwell's Herbal-including the three held in NYBG's LuEsther T. Mertz Library-she will highlight differences that endow each with distinct personalities and argue that some copies were so dramatically altered by their owners that they can be considered unique books and their former owners perceived as co-authors.

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