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Margaret Morse Nice: Telling the Life Histories of Birds

Song Sparrow by Margaret Morse Nice
Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow by Margaret Morse Nice

Margaret Morse Nice(1883-1974) caught my eye because of her bird passion.  My only experience as a girl in birdwatching was one week at summer camp where a counselor took us walking to look for Red-Winged Blackbirds.  That someone would be looking for birds in regular life was a surprise to me.  Margaret Morse Nice received a copy of Mabel Osgood Wright’s Birdcraft field guide as a present for her 13th birthday, and she started writing down her observations of birds around her.

I discovered that Nice grew up in Amherst, MA, where I lived when I went to Hampshire College.  Nice was born just 3 years before  Emily Dickinson died. She went to Mt. Holyoke College, which gave her a reprieve from her parent’s emphasis on getting married and housekeeping.  She graduated and returned to the stultifying role of “daughter-at-home,” rather than the world of learning and discovery.  The thread of her desire to learn persists through enrolling at Clark University graduate school in 1907, and researching Bobwhites, marrying a fellow graduate student, moving with him for his academic appointments in Norman OK, Columbus, OH and Chicago, IL, raising 5 daughters, and studying her girls’ language and behavior at the same time she observed the most common of birds in her own backyard like the Song Sparrow.

The librarian in me is fascinated by the title of her autobiography: Research Is a Passion With Me: The Autobiography of a Bird Lover.    She studied birds in their environment rather than collecting them, and took their life histories.  In my own researching this post, I came across an article, with double Margarets!  The authors describe the absence of women’s experience in comparative psychology, and write about these two Margarets who were both accomplished, one unmarried and teaching at Vassar, and Nice, who married, had children, and published papers, books and reviews, without formal academic appointment.  The article describes Nice’s frustration with the implication that her children and husband had brains, and she had none ~ “He taught, they studied. I did housework.”  To be passionate, observant, engaged in the natural world and meet her subjects on their own terms was ultimately influential in the world of ornithology, is a life history that moves me.

Placing women in the history of comparative psychology: Margaret Floy Washburn and Margaret Morse Nice. by Furumoto, L., & Scarborough, E. (1987). In E. Tobach (Ed.), Historical perspectives and the international status of comparative psychology (pp. 103-117). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

In Memoriam: Margaret Morse Nice by Milton B. Trautman

Margaret Morse Nice Made History at her Columbus Patch, Interpont.

Stratoz was a birdwatcher when I met him, and now has a veritable bird sanctuary in his studio, as he creates Ravens, Nuthatchs, and Great Blue Herons in glass.

Stratozpheres Etsy Shop

 


Margaret Monday

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