Lily Mae Perry was born in New Brunswick, Canada on January 5, 1895. She completed her early education in a one-room school, then attended the Provincial Normal School in Fredericton. After working for several years as a school teacher, she matriculated at Acadia University and graduated with an honor's degree in biology in 1921. She applied to and was accepted by Radcliff college, where she worked with E.C. Jeffires, M.L. Fernald, and B.L. Robinson. After graduation, she stayed on for five years (1925-30) at the Gray Herbarium at Harvard, as an assistant. The high point of this period was the summer Perry spent with Dr. Muriel Roscoe on St. Paul Island, located between the northernmost tip of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They collected 2360 specimens, which they numbered in systematic order. Because the two women travelled together without chaperonage to a remote location at a time when such independence was almost unheard of, this trip provides an excellent example of LMP's tenacity as a botanist. That summer resulted in the pulication of "The Vascular Flora of St. Paul Island" in Rhodora (Vo. 33, May 1931).
In 1930, Perry began her Ph.d work at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Her thesis, titled A Revision of the North American Species of Verbena, was published upon her graduation in 1932. Despite her impressive professional credentials, LMP had trouble finding an academic post, but she accepted short-term appointments at the University of Georgia and Sweetbriar College while she searched for a position in Canada. She was told by the administration in Ottowa that she was "much too qualified for any position we could offer a woman," and returned to Cambridge, where Fernald hired her as a Herbarium assistant (Howard 458). She became a U.S. citizen in 1938.
While at Harvard, LMP worked in collaboration with E.D. Merrill on his floras of the Pacific Islands, the Philipines, and New Guinea. Their work began in 1937 with a paper on the genera of the Myrtaceae, and continued until 1953. In 1959 she made a trip to Europe to examine material at the major herbaria there and met many of the important botanists of the period. Despite reaching retirement age in 1960, LMP contiued to work at Harvard until 1964 while she completed the manuscript of The Medicinal Uses of Plants of Southeastern Asia, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in 1980. The study recorded "herbarium specimens, collector's field notes, traveller's reports, and people in the territory, and published literature" and the volume was lauded as providing "a powerful stimulus to future studies on medicinal plants" (Lip 259). She received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Acadia University, in 1971. LMP died in 1992, in Hingham Massachusetts.
Howard, Richard, A. "Lily May Perry (1895-1992)." Taxon. 41 (4): 792-796, 1992.
Lip, Frank. Rev. of Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia: Attributed Properties and Uses, by Lily M. Perry. Brittonia. 33(2): 258-259, 1981.
Perry, Lily M. Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia: Attributed Properties and Uses.Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980.
The papers were given to the Harvard University Herbaria Libraries upon LMP's death in 1992.
Scope & Content Note:The collection includes 17 boxes of LMP's notecards, a record of the research that resulted in Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia.
See Also:Semi-Historic Letter Collection
Series Descriptions:15 boxes of medicinal plant information on cards
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