Ballona Institute Publication 17
The Best of the Nautilus: Women Pioneering on the Pacific Coast:
19th Century Woman Citizen Naturalist Writings With Some 21st Century Thoughts
Robert Jan van de Hoek, President
Los Angeles, California
Robert Jan van de Hoek
I am not the first person to look back in time into the history of shell collecting and conchology on the Pacific coast of Los Angeles County, Before me, in 1976, R. Tucker Abbott, about 43 years ago, edited a book entitled: THE BEST OF THE NAUTILUS, that included a chapter that he called, Pioneering on the Pacific Coast. R. Tucker Abbott selected several articles from the early periodical journal, known as Nautilus. Dr. Abbott focused some attention during his compiation and editing for his fascinating book on some articles written by Martha Burton Woodhouse Williamson and her shell collecting and conchology interests of the seashore in the San Pedro area and the adjoining Palos Verdes Peninsula. In addition, Dr. Abbott included an excerpt from an apparently unpublished diary of Martha Williamson that is entitled: "COLLECTING CHITONS ON THE PACIFIC COAST." Dr. Abbott prefaced the "Collecting Chitons ...." excerpt from her diary with a brief biography which is presented here for your consideration.
Martha Burton Woodhouse Williamson
R. Tucker Abbott
Martha Burton Woodhouse Williamson was one of the leading lights among Keep's followers, and came to make some very creditable scientific contributions to the Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum and the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Science. She submitted 48 articles, many of a popular nature, to The Nautilus. Born in England on March 6, 1843, she came to America at about the age of 10, and was brought up in the Midwest where she later attended Burlington University in Iowa. She married Charles W. Williamson. Mrs. Williamson was a large and imposing woman, an active editor of the Terre Haute Enterprise, and a very ardent worker in the Women's Christian Temperance Union. She moved to Los Angeles, California in 1887, and was active in civic affairs, including the Los Angeles Historical Society. She was secretary of the Isaac Lea Chapter, which was a shell group under the broader auspices of the then popular Agassiz Association. Mrs. Williamson died on March 18, 1922, at the age of 79, at Los Angeles.
Robert Jan van de Hoek
Between Pacific tides on the Los Angeles coast, Martha Burton Woodhouse Williamson explored for seashells at low tide, beginning in the late 19th Century, circa 1880s to 1890s. She wrote and published her discoveries as an astute and brilliant citizen scientist, with so much curiosity, wonder, and awe for nature and we must be grateful today for her pioneering exploration and reporting about the sea shells of the Pacific Coast of Los Angeles County, including at Santa Catalina Island and San Clemente Island, as well as the shores of southern and central Santa Monica Bay. For example, in 1892, Martha Williamson wrote about "Ballona" of Santa Monica Bay in a published monograph, number 898, of the Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum of the Smithsonian as follows: "In this bay Tivela crassatelloides and Tapes stamina are most abundant. A laguna known as Ballona Harbor, lies between Santa Monica and Redondo Beach." Consider the following question on "abundance" in terms of recovery of these clams today: Do these two clams still occur abundantly between Pacific tides of Santa Monica Bay at Redondo Beach, Ballona Harbor and Santa Monica?