Meet Edith Patch

Edith Patch was born in 1876 in Worcester, Massachusetts. She loved to ramble through the fields surrounding her home and observe the plants and animals found there. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and two years later, to a country home, where she could resume her rambles in the meadows. During her senior year in high school, her knowledge of insect life enabled her to write an essay on the monarch butterfly that won her a $25.00 prize. She used part of this handsome sum to buy a copy of the Manual for the Study of Insects by John Henry Comstock and illustrated by his wife Anna Comstock, both of whom were entomologists at Cornell University with whom she would later study.
Edith Patch entered the University of Minnesota in 1897 and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1901. She was interested in both science and writing. Because she could not find employment in science, she taught English in high school in Minnesota for two years. She continued to seek employment in entomology and finally, in 1903, Dr. Charles D. Woods of the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Maine invited her to go to Orono, Maine, and organize a Department of Entomology there. He offered her no salary but arranged for her to teach English to earn a living wage. Dr. Woods received much ridicule for his appointment of a woman in a man’s field, but within a year, Edith Patch had established the department and earned herself a salaried position. She also proved her worth to Maine’s agriculture, forestry, and horticulture through the practical application of her knowledge of entomology.

Edith Patch earned a masters degree at the University of Maine in 1910 and in 1911 a doctorate at Cornell University, where she became a friend and colleague of the Comstocks. Honors followed: she was elected the first woman president of the Entomological Society of America in 1930, a time when few women were in the field. Agricultural industries around the world called on her expertise. She was an environmentalist and advocated the study of ecology before the word was in common parlance. Forty years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, she warned against the indiscriminate use of pesticides. Throughout her long career, she never lost her concern for the education of the general public, and particularly children, to the wonders of science and the natural world.
Edith Patch bought her Orono home, “Braeside,” in 1913, and made its surrounding gardens, fields, and woods, a living laboratory for her nature studies. The house overlooked the Stillwater River, and a stream ran past it into the river. Her plants and trees supported insects and birds, which she also fed. She retired from the University of Maine in 1937 as “Entomologist Emeritus,” and lived at “Braeside” until her death in 1954.

Contributed by Nancy MacKnight