A history resource written for & by young people, telling the stories the textbooks leave out. Nominate your #HistoryHero today!
Do you demand – and passionately pursue – everything life has to offer?
Beatrix Potter did.
Most of you will know Beatrix Potter's name from the beautifully illustrated children's books, such as the tale of the infamous Peter Rabbit. And it's true, Potter was a prolific children's author/illustrator, crafting delicate nursery rhymes accompanied by realistic, yet whimsical, animal sketches.
What you probably don't know was that Potter was a true jack-of-all-trades. In addition to self-publishing her own children's books – at least initially – she also excelled in business, conservationism, farming, and sheep breeding.
But it all started with mycology: the scientific study of fungi.
As a child, Potter had an artist's perceptiveness for the natural world. During summer holidays throughout the 1880s and 90s, she meticulously observed the plants and animals of the English Lake District. She sketched and documented even the smallest details in nature, like the rippling edges of a forest mushroom.
Her fungi sketches were so realistic that the revered Scottish naturalist Charles McIntosh encouraged her to study scientific illustration at the Royal Gardens at Kew. There, Potter expanded both her artistic abilities as well as her scientific mind, developing her own theories about fungi spore reproduction and writing on the subject.
Both skills would later inform the manuscript for the Tale of Peter Rabbit, which she self-published in 1901. Though she later signed on with publisher Frederick Warne & Co., Potter was always at the helm of her own success. Pioneering the now common model of character merchandising in business, she created a patented Peter Rabbit doll in 1903. Soon, she was making Peter Rabbit tea sets, slippers, and board games, constructing a business empire around her characters.
With the money from her books and merchandise, Potter invested in land in her beloved Lake District. She was an ardent supporter of the National Trust, a charity founded in 1895 “to preserve and protect historic places and spaces — for ever, for everyone.” Potter became an agent for the Trust in 1930, helping it to acquire land and manage farms, including the fifteen she owned, with a view to long-term preservation. Like the Trust, she stood for conserving the agricultural health of the land and the rural cultures of the area, as well as protecting farms from developers.
She played an active role in the maintenance of the farms, with a particular focus on caring for the sheep. In 1943, she became the first woman president of the Herdwick Sheep Breeder's Association. When she died later that year, she left behind over four thousand acres of land to the National Trust, a legacy that — like her children's books — continues to live today.
Potter’s dedication to both the arts and sciences has inspired many, and her various works demonstrate the range of paths a life can amble upon, if one is willing to follow his or her passions. She nurtured thousands of acres of land, and thousands of young imaginations. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.