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Author photo. Photograph (1911) by E.A. Newell Arber (1870-1918)

Photograph (1911) by E.A. Newell Arber (1870-1918)

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Agnes Arber, née Robertson, was born in London, England, a daughter of Henry Robertson, an artist, and his wife Agnes Lucy Turner. In childhood, she received drawing lessons from her father that later enabled her to illustrate her own scientific publications. She was educated at the North London Collegiate School, where she discovered a fascination with botany. She published her first piece of research in 1894 in the school's magazine. In 1897, she enrolled at University College, London, and earned her B.Sc. in 1899. She won a scholarship to Cambridge University and took a first class degree in natural sciences. She earned a doctorate of science degree from UCL in 1905. In 1909, she married E.A.N. (Edward Alexander Newall) Arber, a paleobotanist, with whom she had a daughter, and moved back to Cambridge, where she spent the rest of her life. She was awarded a Research Fellowship from Newnham College in 1912 and published her first book Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution that same year. It is still considered a standard work. She did her research at the Balfour Laboratory for Women and in a small private laboratory in her house. Her work focused on the anatomy and morphology of the monocot group of plants. Her second book Water Plants: A Study of Aquatic Angiosperms was published in 1920, and her third book, The Monocotyledons, appeared in 1925. Her final book on plant morphology, The Gramineae, appeared in 1934. During World War II, she found it difficult to maintain her botanical research due to the shortage of supplies, and began to concentrate on philosophical and historical issues. In 1946, she published Goethe's Botany, a translation of Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants (1790). The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form, published in 1950, is considered her most important book. Other works included The Mind and the Eye: A Biologist's Standpoint, published (1954) and The Manifold and the One (1957).
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