Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)

I just couldn’t resist making October 5 about Catherine Cooper Hopley, although her name is, as they say, hardly a household word.  In the late 1880s, however, it was—for one particular reason.  She wrote the first popular book in the English language about snakes!

            Catherine Cooper Hopley was born in a small town near Canterbury, England, on October 5, 1817 (died 1911).  Few details exist about her childhood, but she had three brothers, one of whom, John Hopley, moved to Ohio and became a well-known entomologist.  She visited her brother’s family in Cleveland in the 1850s, staying for several years and working as a teacher and artist.  She visited Virginia in 1860 and became trapped there when the Civil War began.  Although she prevented from leaving Confederate territory, she wrote articles and made sketches of life in the south for London newspapers.  She met Confederate leaders and became a tutor for the children of the Florida governor.  She was allowed to go back to England in 1863, the Confederates glad to be rid of someone they thought was a British spy working for the Yankees.  Back in England, she wrote several books about life in the American South, illustrated with her own drawings. 

Catherine Cooper Hopley holding a turtle (photo by Russell & Sons, London)

            But then Hopoley found a new interest—snakes!  She was an unlikely candidate to become a herpetologist—a woman in Victorian England—but she was a quick study, equipped with great powers of observation and an artistic eye.  She wrote scientific articles about the natural history of snakes, and other stories about the relationship between snakes and people.  In 1882, she published the first popular book about snakes in the English language, Snakes:  Curiosities and Wonders of Serpent Life.  A reviewer wrote that “her book is careful, thorough, and almost exhaustive…. Miss Hopley has the art of interweaving her own experiences—incident, anecdote, and reminiscence—in the pleasantest fashion with severer scientific matter.” 

A plate from Hopley’s book about snakes, depicting snakes of India (drawing by Catherine Cooper Hopley)

            Getting the book published was no easy task, she told an interviewer in 1893:  “I had the greatest difficulty in getting any publisher to touch my work.  My poor snakes were regarded as loathsome, venomous, and slimy creatures, subjects enough to give one the nightmare.”  Hopley continued to work on the natural history of snakes and wrote another volume on the subject in 1888, British Reptiles and Batrachians.  She died in 1911, known as a “renaissance woman” for the range of her capabilities as scientist, teacher, author, artist and linguist.

            I think her knack of combining science and literature (ala Rachel Carson) makes her the perfect example of a great teacher.  Another of her contemporary reviewers noted that “the general reader will find the book a fascinating one, while the more scientific student will rise from its perusal with the consciousness that … he has learned something new about snakes themselves.” 

            How appropriate that Hopley was born on October 5, now known as World Teachers’ Day.  World Teachers’ Day was adopted in 1994 by UNESCO to recognize the rights and responsibilities of teachers around the world.  And as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals note, education is of fundamental importance in creating and maintaining a sustainable world.

References:

Haverstock, Mary Sayre, et al.  2000.  Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900, A Biographical Dictionary, pages 425-426.  Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio.  Available at:  https://books.google.com/books?id=ZdICm_W8xKwC&pg=PA425&lpg=PA425&dq=catherine+hopley+bio&source=bl&ots=s7kGObILbk&sig=ACfU3U3LEnuMtYFGcFYAuAcXyMO9RnxcyQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiatMrmjYPkAhUCEqwKHRcfBz0Q6AEwB3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=catherine%20hopley%20bio&f=false.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

Ohio Memory.  Catherine Cooper Hopley, Renaissance Woman.  Available at:  https://ohiomemory.ohiohistory.org/archives/1849.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

The American Naturalist. 1884.  Hopley’s Snakes, Curiosities and Wonders of Serpent Life.  The American Naturalist 18(4):402-403.  Available at:  https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/273644.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

The British Quarterly Review.  1883.  Snakes:  Curiosties and Wonders of Serpent Life.  The British Quarterly Review 77:476-477.  Available at:  https://books.google.com/books?id=W3pHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA476#v=onepage&q&f=false.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

The Sketch.  1893.  Snakes! A Chat With Miss Catherine C. Hopley.  The Sketch 3:415-416.  Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=tDBIAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA415#v=onepage&q&f=false.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

UNESCO.  World Teachers’ Day.  Available at:  https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday.  Accessed August 14, 2019.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
January February March April May June July August September October November December