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Keywords:

  • women naturalists;
  • British travel writing;
  • American West

Among the many British women abroad in the late nineteenth century were a number of travellers who toured the American West with a naturalist’s pen and sketchbook. California, with its giant sequoias and redwoods, scenic Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada, and the Mediterranean flora of the southern coasts, especially attracted travellers with a naturalist orientation. We examine the botanical and naturalist writings and art of two well-known (and well-heeled) world travellers – Constance Gordon Cumming and Marianne North – and another more obscure British aristocrat, Theodora Guest, sister of the Duke of Westminster, who travelled in California in the late nineteenth century. We examine relationships among these elite women’s association with the Romantic aesthetic and naturalist traditions, natural sciences, class-based associations between women and flowers, and emergent environmentalism. The works of these women indicate the process by which natural history rhetorics and styles became embedded within gender, class, and imperial relations; and how the division of natural history into professional and amateur domains relegated women to discursive margins.