Lost career of pioneer botanist flowers once more

She was a leading naturalist of her day, but the notes left by Catherine 'Kit' Rob failed to recognise her own contribution to science '“ until now.

Kit Rob's files have been found at York University
Kit Rob's files have been found at York University

Archivists uncovered details of her career in the files of the Borthwick Institute at the University of York, and have released them to mark International Women’s Day.

Born in 1906, Ms Rob became an authority on botany despite never having taken formal lesson. A champion of other female botanists, she was president of the Botanical Society of the British Isles and helped compile the Collins Pocket Guide to British Wildflowers.

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She was also a successful breeder of Cardigan Corgis and won a Best of Breed award at Crufts.

Kit Rob's files have been found at York University

Lydia Dean, an archivist at the Borthwick Institute who stumbled across Ms Rob’s papers in the files of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, said: “The papers convey a real sense of Kit’s personality as a forthright Yorkshire woman with a refreshing outlook on life.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate a remarkable woman who became an authority on North Yorkshire botany despite living in a time period with limited opportunities for female scientists.”

The papers include letters to Ms Rob from other women botanists, seeking her advice. One asks how she might fit such work between childcare and her domestic duties.

Born at Catton Hall near Thirsk, Ms Rob developed an interest in the flora of the area from an early age. Unlike her two brothers, she had no opportunity for a university education, but her passion for the conservation of plants led her to become a member of the Wild Flower Society at 17, and she was a branch secretary until 1971.

Kit Rob's files have been found at York University

She died in 1975, at 68.