top of page
  • Writer's pictureSusan Stoderl

Late Bloomer | Beatrix Potter

Helen Beatrix Potter grew up isolated from other children since upper-middle-class girls did not attend school. Governesses privately educated her at home. Her love of botany, particularly fungi, came from her summers spent in Scotland and the Lake District of Northern England. Her drawings became legendary in their detail.

In 1897, the thirty-one-year-old Potter wrote a scholarly paper on the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae (mushrooms) to the Linnean Society. George Massee, the mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, introduced it. Women could not present papers. She withdrew the entry when she found her samples contaminated but continued to study mycology for several years. Later, her studies proved to be further along than Massee’s. The Linnean Society apologized for her treatment posthumously in 1997.

In 1900, Potter self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit at her own expense after many publishers turned her down. However, in 1902, having refused to publish Potter’s book in 1900, Frederick Warne & Co. published her “bunny book”, as he called it. I believe she got the last laugh on that one!

Potter was engaged for one month in 1905 before her fiancé suddenly died of pernicious anemia. With an inheritance from her aunt and profits from her books, she bought HillTop Farm in the Lake District that same year and studied fell farming and animal husbandry. Over the next thirty years, she added to her farm holdings and knowledge.

In 1913, at 47, Potter married William Heelis, a local attorney who shared her interest in conservation. She continued to write and illustrate and design spin-off merchandise based on her children’s books until the duties of land management and failing eyesight made it too difficult to continue. Potter died of pneumonia and heart disease in 1943 at seventy-seven, leaving almost all her property to the National Trust.

bottom of page