Who was Mrs. William Owen? - Field Book Project

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012


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Emily Hunter

Kathleen, Thank you for this trove of information! I am also convinced now with the extra evidence that this is the same Mrs. Wm Owen who made these collections. What a fascinating woman! I have also learned from colleagues at NMNH and SIA that there is at least one letter from Mrs. William Owen, regarding the sale of anthropological objects to the museum.

Kathleen Dorman

One follow-up comment. There's a photograph of Mary Owen in Elin C. Danien, ed., Maya Folktales from the Alta Verapaz (2005), p. 6, accompanying a discussion of her collection of folktales. That source says her letters, presumably in connection with publication of the folktales, are in the University of Pennsylvania Museum Archives.

Kathleen Dorman

I think you've already got the right person with Mary Owen, wife of William Owen, manager of the Northern Transportation Company in Livingston, Guatemala. The field book "title page" says specimens were collected in the "state of Alta Vera Paz, Guatemala." According to the information on the University of Pennsylvania site to which you link, the Owens lived in Livingston, which is in the state (or department) just east of Alta Verapaz. According to the link below, expeditions heading to the Copan Ruins in Alta Verapaz passed through Livingston, which is on the coast, before heading west. The author specifically mentions the hospitality of Mrs. [William] Owens:
So while I haven't seen any dates for her, I think it's safe to say this is the right person and that she was in Guatemala while her husband was there managing a railroad (which opened in 1883). She would have met and hosted scientists who came to explore in the area and apparently headed west for some collecting herself.

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The Field Book Project is an initiative to increase accessibility to field book content that documents natural history. Through ongoing partnerships within and beyond the Smithsonian Institution, the Project is making field books easier to find and available in a digital format for current research, as well as inspiring new ways of utilizing these rich information resources.
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