Agnes Arber: International Women’s DayMarch 8th, 2021
At Click N Drink, we are looking back at the amazing achievements that have been made by women in succeeding in the fight for equality. But this year, in particular, we want to tell the story of a remarkable woman who often has been left out of many history books. Her story, her work and her achievements are part of our history.
Agnes Robertson Arber was a British plant anatomist and morphologist, a Biology philosopher, and a Botany historian. Though born in London, most of her life was spent in Cambridge. In recognition of her contributions to botany, she was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1946 and was the first female botanist, and the third female ever, to be elected into this famous scientific institution. Because of her contributions to botanical science, Agnes Arber received the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society of London at the age of 69 – the first woman to receive such an accolade.
On February 23, 1879, Agnes Arber was born in London to parents Henry Robertson and Agnes Lucy Turner. She would eventually be the eldest of three children in the family.
At the age of eight, Agnes started school at the Northern London Collegiate School for Girls. It was here that her fascination with botany developed under the supervision of her science teacher, leading her to publish her first research piece in 1894 in the school magazine. In botany exams, Agnes achieved top marks and won a scholarship. It was during her time at school that Agnes met Ethel Sargent, a plant morphologist who regularly gave presentations to the school science club.
After leaving school, Arber began a degree course at University College, London. She spent the summer holiday of 1897 working with Ethel Sargent in her private laboratory, where Sargent taught her the microtechnique to prepare plant specimens for microscopic examinations. While studying at university, Arber would return to work at least once at Sargent’s laboratory during the summer months.
Arber graduated with a first-class degree from University College and won a scholarship to Newham College, Cambridge in 1898 where she received a first-class pass in 1902. While at University, Arber conducted studies on the gymnosperm class of plants and wrote various papers on their anatomy and morphology. The study and philosophy of the morphology of plants were to become the core focus of her later work.
Between the years 1902 and 1903, Arber became Sargent’s research assistant focusing on seedling structures, and in 1903 she published her first paper about the anatomy of Macrozamia heteromera.
Arber returned to work at University College in London and was awarded a lectureship in 1908, remaining there for just one year. In 1909, she married Edward Arber and moved to Cambridge, where her husband worked as a palaeobotanist.
With a wealth of research under her belt, Arber found a core topic on which to focus her research: the morphology and anatomy of monocot plants, inspired by her colleague and mentor, Ethel Sargent.
By 1920, Arber had become an author of two books and 94 other publications. Five years after her second book, she published her third, The Monocotyledons. It was a continuous study on the morphological methods of the analysis that she had presented in her book Water Plants.
In January 1942, Arber published her final paper on botanical research; her later publications were all philosophical and historical. She found it difficult to maintain her small laboratory during World War II but published more and more papers on her philosophical studies. Arber published her final book in 1957, The Manifold and the One, detailing her wider views and philosophical questions about the unity of all things.
A pioneer of botanical sciences and a strong role model for female academics, Agnes Arber died peacefully at home in Cambridge on 22 March 1960, aged 81.
A blue English Heritage plaque can be seen outside Arber’s childhood home at 9 Elsworthy Terrace, Primrose Hill, London.
The Arber range, consisting of Premium, Rhubarb and Pineapple, is a collection of beautifully crafted, full-strength gins, lovingly produced in recognition of Arber’s pioneering work.
From the hand-drawn illustration on the front of every bottle, to the careful selection of each botanical present in the liquid, the Agnes Arber range is our way of saying thank you to the First Lady of Botany. With every bottle purchased and every drink served, Arber’s legacy lives on.
The nine botanicals make up the Agnes Arber Gin; cassia, angelica, grapefruit, coriander, juniper, iris, lemon, orange, and liquorice. Those botanicals infused and distilled together makes this the ideal drink to celebrate Agnes Arber and her work in botany.
Agnes Arber Rhubarb Gin and Agnes Arber Pineapple Gin offer contrast flavours to the original Agnes Arber Premium Gin. The Agnes Arber Rhubarb Gin expands on the original nine botanicals, adding the sweet and fresh rhubarb. The Agnes Arber Pineapple Gin contributes rich flavours of mango and pineapple; adding tropical elements to those original nine botanicals.
The first International Women’s Day was marked in 1911 in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Over one million people attended marches and rallies calling for the right to vote, the right to education, the right to hold public office, for better pay and working conditions, and an end to systematic discrimination against women.
100 years ago today, in 1921, women still did not have the right to vote unless they passed the property qualification. It would not be until 1928, 93 years ago, that all women over 21, regardless of their class and skin colour, could finally vote.
Since 1928, we’ve seen more women in the workplace, more women in Parliament, including two women leading the country, more women leading positions across all industries around the world, and gradual closure of the gender pay gap.
But the fight for equality in the UK must not stop there. Reports of sexual harassment and domestic violence have risen over the last few years, and we must all make a conscious decision to choose to challenge this behaviour where we see it, encouraging victims and survivors to get help and ensuring that the victim is never blamed. Also, there is work to be done in highlighting and challenging the gender pay gap between full-time employed men and women in our society is crucial, ensuring education and opportunities are open to all. There is more that can be done and we must all use our influence to bring about change for women and others in society.
As part of our celebration of Agnes Arber and International Women’s Day this year, we are cutting the price of the Agnes Arber 70cl bottle range by over 9%. This is to highlight that despite men and women having equal rights in law in the UK, there is still an imbalance in our society with a gender pay gap of 9% between full-time working men and women, as recorded in 2019 by The Office For National Statistics.
We believe that the Agnes Arber range is would make a fantastic gift to a remarkable woman who you can celebrate as someone who has had a phenomenal impact not just on your life, but the lives of others around you. Agnes Arber was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a plant morphologist, a historian of botany and a philosopher of botany. We can often forget the many roles that women have in our lives and all the work they do, so today and every day, join us in saying thank you.