History of the Butterfly, Part 28: Introducing Helen Fitch Parker

I have an obsession with this little butterfly, Oarisma poweshiek, which was discovered in Grinnell, Iowa, just twenty or so miles from where I grew up.  I have tried unsuccessfully to photograph it, and tried (before I realized just how rare it has become) to set up a program to re-introduce it to prairie areas near where it was discovered.

I have also done a lot of research on the people involved with the butterfly, including its namesake, Chief Poweshiek, and the poet who named it, Henry W. Parker.  The number of old, obsolete books that can be downloaded off of the internet, partly as a result of the Google books project is amazing.  (Microsoft has digitized a number as well.)   You can even buy those books as paperbacks—print on demand books from Kessinger Publishing.

            I have purchased and read Henry Parker’s Poems, published in 1850, and his book The Spirit of Beauty:  Essays Scientific and Aesthetic, published in 1888.  Henry was a prolific author, and had a number of scientific writings to his credit.  I have read a number of them.

            Henry Parker was a remarkable man.  And he was married to an equally remarkable woman.  His wife was Helen Fitch Parker.  Helen Fitch Parker was a published author as well.  In fact, she authored more books than Henry did.  A list includes the following: 

Sunrise and Sunset (1854)

Morning Stars of the New World (1854)

Rambles after Land Shells (1863)

Frank’s Search for Sea Shells (1866)

Constance of Aylomar (1869)

Blind Florette (1871)

Arthur’s Aquarium (1872)

Discoverers and Pioneers of America (1860)

Some of those volumes are available in a digital form on the internet.  Some are not.  I have read some of them.

Henry has a writing style that is technical, typically uses his extensive vocabulary, and sometimes refers to arguments made by others as if we should know about their writings—for example, “Pres. Chadbourne says that to assert that this ability is only a low form of remembered associations, can have little weight as an assertion, and lacks proof.” (from “Mind in Animals” in his 1888 volume).  Henry’s mind quickly turns to the grand designs of nature—he has little time for the small and mundane.

Helen writes more purely, and from the heart.  From the 1860 volume “As the shadows of night were slowly lifted from the dark mass that had loomed up through long, tantalizing hours, they looked with wonder upon the shores of a beautiful island,…”

The book Rambles after Land Shells is also available on the internet in digital form.  It is quite an unusual volume, and I will discuss that in more depth later.  However, after reading this book, I became convinced that Helen was the real biologist in the family.  It comes through loud and clear.  Helen’s attention to detail shines through.

I think Helen discovered the butterfly.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in butterflies, Helen Fitch Parker, Henry W. Parker, oarisma poweshiek, The History of the Butterfly, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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