Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Edith Marion Patch

(1876-1954)

Entomologist Edith Marion Patch was born in 1876 in Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. as the youngest of six children. Edith became interested in nature after her family moved to a prairie property near Minneapolis, Minnesota when she was eight years old. She used the $25 prize she won for an essay on monarch butterflies to buy the scholarly Manual for the Study of Insects written by John Henry Comstock and illustrated by Anna Botsford Comstock.

Patch attended the University of Minnesota where she studied English and won prizes for her sonnets. After graduating from college in 1901, she worked for two years as an English teacher but began looking for jobs in entomology (the study of insects). She was told repeatedly that entomology was no field for a woman until she was, finally, hired by Charles D. Woods at the University of Maine. He offered her no salary for a year until she could prove herself capable. Patch accepted the offer. She quickly showed herself a very capable entomologist and Woods awarded her a salary and a teaching position. In 1904, despite protests from sexist colleagues, he made her the head of the department. She remained in that position for the remainder of her professional life.

While working at the university, Patch earned a master's degree from Maine in 1910. Subsequently, she earned a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University in New York as a student of J.H. Comstock who regarded her very highly. He used part of her thesis for his Introduction to Entomology.

Patch began focusing her work on the habits of aphids. Most aphids feed on very selected species of plants and can cause serious damage to crops. She made a very important discovery that the melon aphid eggs spend the winter in the "live-for-ever weed" and that eliminating this weed would seriously reduce infestation of crops.

She became a recognized authority on aphids and researchers from all over the world started sending her their specimens. In 1930, she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America. One male colleague deplored the lateness of this appointment. He said in his letter, "The fact that you are not a man was the only excuse."

Patch published the Food Plant Catalogue of the Aphids, an exhaustive work and a major contribution to entomology. She also published stories for children. She retired from the university in 1937. Her pension and royalties from her books gave her a comfortable retirement. However, following the death of her sister in the 1940's, Patch suffered from severe loneliness. Edith Patch died in 1954.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Healers and Scientists by Brooke Bailey, Bob Adams, Inc., Publishers, 1994
2. Women's World: A Timeline of Women in History by Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, HarperCollins Publishers, 1995

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