During the 1800s, a naturalist movement grew as people became more interested in the environment. Anna Comstock was one of the leaders of that movement. Her nature study lessons were used in schools around the country.
- Anna was born in Otto, New York in 1854.
- Her parents were Quakers. They encouraged Anna to pursue her love of nature.
- Anna attended Chamberlain Institute and Female College. After she graduated, she became a teacher.
- In 1874, Anna attended Cornell University. At that time, few women went to college. Women made up only 10 percent of her class.
- In 1878, Anna married John Comstock, an entomologist (a scientist who studies insects). Although she’d had no formal art training, she began to illustrate his work. She studied wood carvings and used what she’d learned in her illustrations.
- Later, the New York Society for the Promotion of Agriculture hired Anna to write and illustrate materials for teachers. She published pamphlets, articles, and books, which were used by teachers across the country. The subject of the lessons was “nature study.”
- Anna believed that nature study should be fun and engaging. She thought children should learn about nature through observation of the animals and plants living near them. She did not like dull textbooks.
- In 1897, Cornell University offered Anna a position as a nature study assistant. Two years later, she was made a professor – the first female professor at Cornell.
- Anna’s greatest work was probably A Handbook of Nature Study. This huge volume contains information and lesson ideas on hundreds of plants and animals. It is still used by some teachers and homeschooling parents today.
One of the things Anna encouraged students to do was to keep a nature journal detailing the things they learned about the natural world. John Muir Laws, one of our modern naturalists, offers hundreds of videos and lessons on nature study and journaling.