MAry Walcott PA conservation figure

Mary Vaux Walcott

July 31, 1860 - August 22, 1940

Mary Vaux Walcott was born in to a very wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1860. While still young, her mother passed away, leaving her to take care of her two brothers, George and William. Vaux attended school at the Friends Select School in Philadelphia and following her graduation in 1879, she worked at home and on the family dairy farm. During this time, an uncle, who was a mineralogist, interested her and her brothers in glaciers, recording information about the glaciers over the summer months. On a sequence of family vacations in the Canadian Rockies, she developed into an amateur naturalist and watercolorist. Mary Vaux Wolcott returned to the region virtually every summer for over 40 years. At the age of forty, she was the first woman to climb Mt. Stephen in British Columbia. In honor of her climb, a mountain was named after her – Mt. Mary Vaux – located in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Mary Vaux married Charles D. Walcott, a geologist, paleontologist, and the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, in 1914. She assisted her husband with numerous projects and served as an active hostess in Washington, D.C. She continued her painting of flowers throughout their relationship, and in 1925, the Smithsonian Institute published in limited and library editions a five-volume North American Wild Flowers, which contained 400 of Walcott’s paintings of native wildflowers and their descriptions. Her work was renowned for both the radiance and the authenticity of the watercolors.

Walcott served on the Federal Board of the Indian Commissioners from 1927 to 1932. In 1933, she was elected president of the Society of Woman Geographers, and two years later she contributed fifteen watercolors to the Smithsonian’s Illustrations of North American Pitcher-Plants.

A detailed discussion of the Vaux’s activities can be found in Legacy in Ice: The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps. (