Ballona Institute Publication

Edith Sumner Byxbee, Botanist and Marine Biologist:
Notes Toward a History and Biography of Women That Become Marine Biologists, Ecologists, Botanists, Zoologists, Naturalists and Scientists

California State Bear Flag

Compiled and Edited
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ecologist, Conservation Biologist, Marine Biologist, Environmental Biologist, Wetland Scientist, Environmental Historian, Biographer, Geographer
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90293


"... History is Biography ..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
19th Century

Edith Sumner Byxbee graduated from Oakland High School in May, 1891. An estimate for her birth year is 1871 or 1872 which is surmised by subtracting 18 years from the high school graduation date of 1891. Where she was born and where she spent her early childhood years is unknown at this time.

After high school graduation she enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. While attending she affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It is clear that she was interested in nature and the outdoors.

By 1897, Edith completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree from UC Berkeley. Whether it took her 6 years to complete the degree (1891-1897) or whether she waited for 2 years (1891-1893) before enrolling at the University of California is not known at this time. Some research at the Registrar Office or Admission Office at University of California can answer this question. I believe that her emphasis was botany and that she very likely had coursework with the distinguished professor named Edward Lee Greene. It seems likely that she was a student at the same time as Willis Linn Jepson who also was a student of botany and studied under Edward Lee Greene for his PhD.

In 1899, Edith completed the requirements for a graduate Masters degree at the University of California at Berkeley. It is quite likely that her emphasis was still botany. She also did field trips between 1895 and 1897 to the Sierra Nevada where she collected bryophytes (musci) and to Mendocino County where she collected vascular plants that are in the Jepson Herbarium or University of California herbarium. She also collected species in the Oakland Hills during this time period.

In 1900, just three years after completing her university degree, Edith wrote a scientific article in botany which was published in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. The focus of the study was on a plant known as "tree mallow" or as Lavatera in scientific latin, particularly a microscopic study of this plant species. It seems possible that this study was a part of her Master degree requirements since the date of her Master degree in 1899 is so close to the date of publication of her study in 1900. If we consider the time needed for an article to pass through editing and submitting the date of 1899 to 1900 makes this scenario even more likely. Again, research at the registrar and admissions at the University of California would elucidate her attendance dates, courses taken with professors, and we would learn more about her emphasis in biological science, as to botany, zoology, embryology, anatomy, or another subdiscipline of biology.

In any regard, in 1905, interestingly, only 5 years after her published botanical study, she had another focus in marine biology because she wrote an article on marine animals known as "pelagic tunicates" with professor William Emerson Ritter at the University of California at Berkeley. The focus was on southern California and the collection of these marine organisms from primarily the San Diego region and Catalina Island. I believe that she was responsible for the illustrations in this report but I will say more on this subject at a later time.

Between 1900 and 1905 she became acquainted with Charles Palmer Nott, a naturalist and scientist affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences. Her engagement to Mr. Nott was announced at a soriety meeting known as "Gamma Phi Beta" at a home in the San Francisco Bay region in January 1904. She married him soon afterward, and then there is no further evidence related to other scientific investigation into nature through the University of California or the California Academy of Sciences. It would appear that she focused on family life as a wife.

As a woman naturalist and scientist, her affiliation with professor William Emerson Ritter is fascinating because he also nurtured at least two other women in the early 20th Century. These two women are Myrtle Eilizabeth Johnson and Ruth Agnes Forsyth, but Edith Byxbee precedes these two women. All three women did studies on marine biology with William Emerson Ritter. All three women were talented at detail illustration specifically as scientific drawing/art. And the three women all studied the "tunicates" which was the main interest of William Emerson Ritter at this period in his career.

Edith Sumner Byxbee's coauthor, Professor William Emerson Ritter was considered a world expert on tunicates (ascidians and urochordata), zoology, and marine biology, who published many studies on these organisms found on the Pacific Coast of California.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and noteworthy aspects of this research is the affiliation of William Emerson Ritter with women who wish to study marine biology and zoology in the early 20th Century, fully 100 years ago. And it is also a demonstration that a professor had the courage and humanitarian awareness to advise and affiliate professionally with young women scientists. He was not afraid to be associated with scientifically oriented women.

Myrtle Johnson's undergraduate and graduate degrees were both completed at the University of California at Berkeley. Her study was also on a marine biology subject of the same related group of organisms related closely to the ascidians (tunicates - sea squirts) namely the "salps" that are pelagic, i.e. they live in the open ocean rather than along the seashore in the littoral region. Myrtle Johhnso went on to complete a PhD at Berkeley and then to become a distinguished professor at San Diego State College. She wrote the first dedicated guide to seashore life of the Pacific Coast in the 1920s, within a decade of completing her PhD. Dr. Ritter named an asicidan in her honor in 1909 for her excellent detailed scientific illustration of a particularl ascidian that he was studying, simultaneously as he was mentoring her as an advisor and soon afterward, also mentoring Ruth Agnes Forsyth.

Ruth Agnes Forsyth, another student of professor Ritter, was mentored for a masters degree in the same time period of Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson. There are two publications by Ruth Agnes Forsyth, both her masters thesis and the published report co-authored with professor William Emerson Ritter that are a testimony to one of the earliest woman marine biologists of the 20th Century and is noteworthy for this reason alone. Their published report is considered a classic marine biology publication, even today, and is so thorough and important that it is still quoted by modern marine researchers including Doctor Rimmon Carlton Fay, Doctor Donald Abbott, Doctor A. Todd Newbury, Doctor Gretchen Lambert, and Doctor Charles Lambert, from the 1970s to 2008 in the completely revised fourth edition of the "Light and Smith Manual" of the Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon, edited by Doctor James Carlton.

Excerpts from the article by Edith Sumner Byxbee and William Emerson Ritter from 1905 will be linked her in the near future.
Tunicata of the San Diego Region of California.

Note: The Ballona Institute has an original copy of the report by Edith Sumner Byxbee and William Emerson Ritter. The copy was obtained from a bookseller in Arizona.

The mission and goal of the Ballona Institute is to work toward an honest, truthful, and genuine ecological restoration and education of the public as to genuine restoration, such as establishment of an ascidian marine fauna in the greater Ballona Wetlandn Ecosystem.

The first step is biography of earlier marine biologists which is history. And to see what the ascidian fauna was and would have been here at the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem. It is needed to identify and characterize the ascidian fauna of Ballona Lagoon, Ballona Harbor, Ballona Seashore, and Ballona Jetties, in order to do genuine restoration via recovery of these littoral ascidians of shallow water. Ascidians are sensitive to pollution that occurred at Ballona from the 1920s through the 1970s. Fortunately, there is no longer any water pollution to the marine environment and marine wildlife such as the delicate ascidians. Ballona Creek has been cleaned up adequately for wildlife to recover. It may not be clean enough for human standards that are overly rigorous but for wildlife, the Ballona Wetlands are very healthy now. Recovery of locally extinct species is the genuine goal of restoration for the Ballona Wetlands, through acquisition of additional land in the Ballona Ecosystem rather than excavating and removing soil that has been disigenuinely been being called "fill dirt" recently. There will be massive pollution of silt and clay particles to the Ballona River Estuary if dredging occurs which will destroy the healthy marine fauna and prevent the recovery of littoral ascidans for another century when it is time now to bring back the littoral ascidians.

Now that the Ballona Estuary is no longer polluted from a wildlife perspective and marine biology perspective, it is time to bring back marine life and terrestrial life that was eliminated between the 1890s and 1980s. Due to the fact that Doctor Rimmon Carlton Fay, who studied the ascidians of southern California intensively in the 1960s and 1970s, and since the Ballona Institute has obtained both of Dr. Fay's published scientific articles on ascidians, as well as his thorough monographic report on the pollution of the Southern California coast from 1974, we can begin to determine the littoral ascidians to restore and recover for the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem.

The research of the Ballona Institute in bringing the previous research and biographies together on ascidians from Rimmon Carlton Fay and Ruth Agnes Forsyth, together with that of William Emerson Ritter and Donald Abbott of Stanford University at Hopkins Marine Station, who recently passed away, as did Rimmon Carlton Fay, we are now in a unique position to bring many insights to understanding the Ballona River Estuary and its regional context to Santa Monica Bay and the Southern California Bight for littoral asicidans and selected subtidal ascidans as well.

Lastly, the current resarch and published studies by the husband and wife team of Doctor Charles Lambert and Doctor Gretchen Lambert of Friday Harbor Marine Lab at the University of Washington in the modern era of our 21st Century regarding ecology of ascidians including invasive ascidians of southern California and the Ballona Harbor in Marina del Rey has also assisted the Ballona Institute toward accomplishing a modern synthesis and base-line study of the marine biology. This investigation of marine biology is underway as a research project by the Ballona Institute for the benefit of the public that wishes to question authority of our corrupt government organizations and corrupt government quasi-scientists including certain selected university scientists that pretend to be conservation oriented with an interest in nature and wildlife but actually covertly masquerade with private developers and real estate speculators that are still hard at work to destroy nature and wildlife in the Ballona Wetlands in the great state of California with a natural heritage that needs to be protected, preserved, restored, and recovered through organizations like the Ballona Institute which questions authority, by doing biography and history for genuine authority and knowledge for genuine restoration and recovery of our genuine flora and fauna of both the marine environment and terrestial environment. The Ballona Institue thought that the establishment of a Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve that is managed by the state of California would now be preserved and protected but we are all finding out otherwise now as the evil developers and real-estate speculators are corrupting the state of California government agencies with politics but the Ballona Institute is also involved in exposing this government corruption in all its perverse and insidious politics ongoing at the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem.