Mary Wharton

January 4, 2012 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s

Mary Wharton and her dog at the Kentucky RiverMy mother saw this site and said we should celebrate her hero: Dr. Mary E. Wharton (1912-1991) from Lexington. A tireless advocate for Kentucky’s dwindling forests, Wharton led many groups on trips throughout Kentucky to marvel at the richness of our environmental heritage.

Wharton was well educated: she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s degree after majoring in both botany and geology; then went on to earn a Masters and then a Ph.D from the University of Michigan by 1945. She returned to Kentucky to work at Georgetown College as a professor of botany and became the chair of the Department of Biological Sciences until she retired in 1974. Wharton wrote and coauthored several books including A Guide to Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky (1971), Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky (1973) and Bluegrass Land and Life (1991). She started the Land and Nature Trust of the Bluegrass and she was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Kentucky Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Wharton led the protest against the Army Corp of Engineers who were planning to dam the Red River Gorge, and a flawed plan by the Department of Highways to widen Paris Pike. The 278 acre Mary E. Wharton Nature Sanctuary at Flora Cliff on the Kentucky River in southern Fayette County is named in her honor.

Indicative of her status as an elite Kentucky woman, Dr. Wharton was a respected member of the Colonial Dames, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Rubus whartoniae, an endangered species of dewberry that she discovered in 1942 is named after her.

For more information, see her papers at the University of Kentucky Special Collections where you will find several hundred photographs, sound recordings, post cards, tour guides, maps, and notes of her trips — and also Dr. Wharton’s religious writings and publications.

2 responses to Mary Wharton

  1. You don’t hear of many women who were environmentalists back in the day. I took a class about agriculture last semester and I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of maintaing our environment. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is extremely fascinating and inspiring that there are women in our history and from the state of Kentucky that have done such amazing things for our community. The things that she accomplished during her lifetime is absolutely amazing! The fact that there is a sanctuary and a plant species named after her because of the great work that she did is truly inspiring to us all. She is truly a woman to inspire us all.

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