Donald Culross Peattie

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Donald Culross Peattie

Death: 1964 (65-66)
Immediate Family:

Son of Robert Burns Peattie and Elia W. Peattie
Husband of Louise Heegaard Peattie
Father of Mark R. Peattie; Celia Louise Peattie; Malcolm Redfield Peattie and Noel Roderick Peattie
Brother of Private; Roderick Peattie and Private

Managed by: Private User
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About Donald Culross Peattie

Donald Culross Peattie (June 21, 1898 – November 16, 1964) was an American botanist, naturalist and author. He was described by Joseph Wood Krutch as "perhaps the most widely read of all contemporary American nature writers" during his heyday. His brother, Roderick Peattie (1891–1955), was a geographer and a noted author in his own right. Some have said that Peattie’s views on race may be considered regressive, but that expressions of these views are "mercifully brief and hardly malicious".

Early life

Peattie was born in Chicago to the journalist Robert Peattie and the novelist Elia W. Peattie. He studied French poetry for two years at the University of Chicago and then transferred to – and graduated (1922) from — Harvard University, where he studied with the noted botanist Merritt Lyndon Fernald. After field work in the Southern and Mid-West United States, he worked as a botanist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1922–1924). He was then nature columnist for the Washington Star from 1924 to 1935. At some point in the late 1920s Peattie and his wife, with their four-year-old daughter and baby son, moved to Paris to "launch the frail bark of our careers". At two days in Paris the daughter died "of a malady unsuspected and always fatal". In a "search for sunlight" they re-settled in Vence in the south. Another son was born there.

Later life

Peattie was an advocate for protecting the Indiana Dunes. He served on the Save the Dunes Council in the late 1950s, helping to bring Illinois' Senator Paul Douglas into the fight to protect the Indiana Dunes from industrial development.

Literature Work

Peattie's nature writings are distinguished by a poetic and philosophical cast of mind and are scientifically scrupulous. His best known works are the two books (out of a planned trilogy) on North American trees, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (1950) and A Natural History of Western Trees (1953), with woodcut illustrations by Paul Landacre. Peattie also produced children's and travel books, altogether totaling almost forty volumes. He also published the classic, botanical treatment on the Flora of the Indiana Dunes (1930).

An example of Peattie's views that can be construed as racist is the following, from "An Almanac for Moderns": "Every species of ant has its racial characteristics. This one seems to me to be the negro of ants, and not alone from the circumstance that he is all black, but because he is the commonest victim of slavery, and seems especially susceptible to a submissive estate. He is easily impressed by the superior organization or the menacing tactics of his raiders and drivers, and, as I know him, he is relatively lazy or at least disorganized, random, feckless and witless when free in the bush, while for his masters he will work faithfully."

On the other hand, there's a strain of at least mild anti racism often discernible in Peattie's commentary. For example, in his discussion of Linnaeus, the Swedish founding father of taxonomy, Peattie describes, in 1936, how Linnaeus grew up in a small, provincial town far from the scientific capitals of Europe: "To the astonishment of all the wise men, he (Linnaeus) was not a product of Wittenberg, or the parks of Versailles or even of English country life, that nurse of so much delicate feeling for natural beauty. But genius so seldom grows where the highly born and the members of the eugenical societies tell us to expect it!" (This is a slap against the American Eugenics Society, a national group formed in 1921, which was prominent in the 1930s, promoting "racial betterment." During that time, the group consisted of "mostly prominent and wealthy members who more often than not were non-scientists.")

Furthermore, according to Peattie's grandson, David Peattie, "In the period following the bombing of Pearl Harbor... [Donald Culross Peattie] spoke out eloquently against the internment of Japanese Americans, and wrote letters to the editor in their defense" . That was after he witnessed a Japanese gardener, who had been hired by the owner of a house he was renting in California, interred in the camps. Thus, Peattie's belief in the inferiority of people of African descent seems to be specific to them, and does not seem to have extended to other non-white people, or implied a broader support of eugenics.


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