The Two Careers of Henrietta Hooker (1851-1929)



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Henrietta Edgecomb Hooker was one of several teachers of Mount Holyoke’s faculty who rose to prominence in the last quarter of the 19th century. Foremost among the teachers of science were Lydia Shattuck ’51 (1822-89), an eminent botanist, and Cornelia Clapp ’71 (1849-1934), an equally esteemed zoologist. Shattuck, already well advanced in botany, attended Louis Agassiz ‘s classes in natural history in Penikese Island, Wood’s Hole, in the summer of 1873, and the younger Clapp followed her there in 1874. At Penikese, students absorbed Agassiz’s methods of studying animals and plants in their natural environment; observational methods were engaged more than theory. This was, in effect, a more scientific extension of Mary Lyon’s way of teaching (Shattuck was her pupil). Hooker joined Shattuck and Clapp in 1873, sharing with them the study of natural forms from direct observation. She soon made her mark as a gifted and popular teacher of botany. Nonetheless, her teaching has attracted little notice because she was not a publishing scholar. Unlike her colleagues, however, she had a wholly different second career. She retired from teaching in 1908 to give all of her time to the breeding of chickens. She wrote little about teaching but left several lively and confessional accounts of raising chickens. These give us a much better look into her temperament and daily life than we have for her years of teaching.