Anna Comstock Feature
Who is Anna Comstock? Aside from a woman made of sugar and spice and everything awesome, she’s totally deserving of a multi-colored leotard with the letters ‘CUIC” emblazoned on top. What makes her worthy of fan worship beyond those of post-80s boy bands? That’s easy. Everything. Through her life’s work, accomplishments and appointments, Anna Comstock serves as an astonishing example of female empowerment during the 19th century, both for contemporary women and her gendered contemporaries.
At age 20, Comstock entered Cornell as one of 36-48 women accepted into the university in a class of 484 males. She graduated in 1885 with a degree in Natural History and married her Zoology instructor, John Comstock. Between 1879 and 1881, she assisted John in his 1880 Entomology Report for the U.S. Government and other reports, by illustrating immature larvae for local identification to prevent crop degradation.
She remains the first female professor at Cornell, a remarkable fact, considering the trustees dismissed her for that biological condition. Liberty Hyde Bailey later reinstated her as a Professor of Nature Study, unfortunately, based on her gender Cornell continued to deny her full professorship until 1920, two years preceding her retirement.
Despite that, Anna continued to share her academic accomplishments with Cornell University. Both she and Henry dedicated the Cornell University Press, its building and printing apparatus to the university in their will. The Press, located at 512 E. State Street, continues to publish scholarly texts including an etymological journal imprint, honoring its founders.
Outside of Cornell, Anna received more recognition of her skills and capabilities. In 1895, she joined New York State’s appointment-only Committee for the Promotion of Agriculture and in 1923, the league of women voters voted her as one of 12 most prominent women. She edited the Nature-Study Review between 1917 and 1923 while publishing numerous pamphlets, specifically The Handbook of Nature Study (1911) which remains in circulation today: Amazon.com, Internet Archive.
Even in death, Comstock’s gendered accomplishments remain. While the ‘Girls Explore’ series created an ‘Anna Comstock Doll’, in 1988, the National Wildlife Federation inducted her into the Conservation Hall of Fame. Plus, Cornell University finally recognized her accomplishments. She remains the only person on campus with two buildings carrying her name: Comstock Hall and the Anna Comstock Residence Hall.
James Leibherr, Curator, Cornell University Insect Collection
Last modified 2008-11-12 10:54