Today’s Google Doodle, a print of leaves on a soft, prussian blue background, honors 19th century botanist Anna Atkins, credited as the first person to create a book with photographs.
Love that Anna Atkins is today’s Google Doodle, her Cyanotypes are so beautiful. Amazing woman.
— Ruth Brooks (@ruth_brooks12) March 16, 2015
Born in 1799 in Kent, England, Atkins’s father was a scientist. According to the Guardian, Anna Atkins’s father was John George Children. Children was known as an experimental chemist, fellow at the Royal Society, and keeper of natural history at the prestigious British Museum. Atkins married a wealthy man, and did not have children. According to many sources, she received more education than many girls in her time, presumably because of her father’s own scientific interests. Botany was one of the scientific explorations considered acceptable to women. The Guardian reports that Atkins married in 1825, and continued to study botany, after years as her father’s assistant. Botany was considered an acceptable pursuit for women, presumably because of its close relation with gardening. She joined the Botanical Society of London in 1936, which was open to both men and women from its founding.
— Papa Bradstein (@PapaBradstein) March 16, 2015
Atkins’s most famous work, British Algae, was published piecemeal over a decade.
According to Vox, the book was published bit by bit in the 1840s and 1850s. Atkins, along with a friend, Anna Dixon, collected specimins of algae, and used a variation of sun printing to capture fine details of the algae. Techinically, her work is called photograms, instead of photographs, because no camera was used.
Less than 20 copies of her botanical work are left.
The Washington Post tells that one of those copies, however, remains with the descendants of Herschel,
The chemist-astronomer and photographic scientist who invented the precursor to blueprinting known as the cyanotype, by which chemically treated paper exposed to light could create a permanent impression.
Love today’s plant-themed google logo for Anna Atkins! #iamabotanist
— Nora Mitchell (@Nora_C_Mitchell) March 16, 2015
Anna Atkins also wrote fiction.
According to the Washington Post, Atkins wrote at least four other works, including:
“The Perils of Fashion (1852), The Colonel. A Story of Fashionable Life (1853), Murder Will Out (1859) or A Page from the Peerage (1863).”
As was common for the time, the books were published under a pseudonym.
Happy 216th Birthday to Anna Atkins!