The historical and scientific signficance of Agnes Arber:

Born in Primrose, Hill, London, into a learned and artistic middle-class family, Cambridge botanist Agnes Arber, née Robertson (23 Feb. 1879-22 Mar. 1960) was a renowned plant morphologist and anatomist, historian of botany, botanical bibliographer, and philosopher of biology. This stature was achieved as a result of innumerable papers and eight books:

Herbals (1912, 1938, 1986)
Water plants (1920)
Monocotyledons (1925)
The Gramineae (1934)
Goethe's botany (1946)
The natural philosophy of plant form (1950)
The mind and the eye (1954), and
The manifold & the one (1957).
Arber is perhaps best known outside botany because of her Herbals book. However, she played a minor role in the botany of Cambridge, where she lived for nearly 54 years, including the last 51 years of her life.

Arber is also significant to women's studies because she was the first woman botanist and only the third woman overall elected to the Royal Society, in 1946 (the previous two woman electees being in 1945), and the first woman Gold Medalist of the Linnean Society, in 1948.

Arber was greatly influenced by the British morphologist Ethel Sargant (28 Oct. 1863-16 Jan. 1918), who for the last six years of her life lived in nearby Girton in the Old Rectory. Sargant was both a mentor to and lifelong friend of Arber.

Married on 5 August 1909 to Cambridge paleobotanist Edward Alexander Newell Arber (5 Aug. 1870-14 June 1918), and widowed on 14 June 1918, Arber never remarried after his death, raising alone her only daughter, Muriel Agnes Arber, born in Cambridge on 21 July 1913 (her godmother was Ethel Sargant). The two lived together in Cambridge until Agnes Arber's death in 1960. She is buried with Newell Arber at St. Andrew's Parish Church in Girton. Muriel Arber, a geologist of considerable accomplishments, resided in Cambridge several blocks from her childhood home on 52 Huntingdon Rd. until shortly before her death in Cambridge on 10 May 2004.


  1. Schmid, R. 2001. Agnes Arber, née Robertson (1879-1960): Fragments of her life, including her place in biology and in women's studies. Ann. Bot., n.s., 88:1105-1128.
  2. Schmid, R. 2004. Sargant, Ethel (1863-1918). Pp. 1762-1766 (vol. 4) in B. Lightman (ed.), The dictionary of nineteenth-century British scientists, 4 vols. Bristol: Continuum International Publishing Group.
  3. Schmid, R. & Mena Schmid. 2004. Muriel Agnes Arber (1913-2004). Taxon 53:861. [Obituary.]  <link to the article on this site>

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Last revised: Feb 2005