Dr. Julie McCown
I am an Assistant Professor of English at Southern Utah University. I specialize in early American literature, animal studies, ecocriticism, natural history and science studies, and digital humanities and media theory. My current research focuses on animal materiality in early American natural history texts.
SUU Distinguished Faculty Lecture
The Rocky Mountain Huntress: Recovering the Story of Martha Maxwell’s Frontier Taxidermy
January 13, 2022
American naturalist and taxidermist Martha Maxwell became famous in the 1870s for her skill and expertise in collecting and preserving specimens of Colorado’s wildlife. While not the first American woman naturalist, Maxwell is the earliest extant example of one acquiring and preparing animal specimens, engaging in the messy, dangerous, and bloody work previously left to her male counterparts. Despite Maxwell’s skill and fame as a taxidermist in the nineteenth century she is virtually unknown today.
In this lecture, I re-introduce On the Plains, and Among the Peaks; or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection (1879), written by Maxwell’s half-sister Mary Dartt. Dartt’s book tells the story of a woman whose lifelong passion and dedication to work and education made her a pioneer in more ways than one; it catalogs Maxwell’s important scientific contributions and development of museum habitat groupings and lifelike taxidermy mounts, showcases engaging accounts of wilderness excursions on the frontier of the Western U.S. in the 1860s and 1870s, and testifies to a woman’s resolve to show through her work that women were capable of succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated field.
New and Notable
My critical edition of On the Plains, and Among the Peaks; or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made Her Natural History Collection will be available this Fall from University Press of Colorado. American naturalist and taxidermist Martha Maxwell became famous in the 1870s for her skill and expertise in collecting and preserving specimens of Colorado’s wildlife but is virtually unknown today. On the Plains, and Among the Peaks, written in 1879 by Maxwell’s half-sister Mary Dartt, provides a fascinating case study of how women practiced natural history and taxidermy, as well as a fresh look at the early exploration and settlement of Colorado.
While working on a project in a graduate course taught by Dr. Cedrick May in Fall 2011, I discovered a previously unknown and unpublished poem by Jupiter Hammon. Together with Dr. May, we visited Yale University’s Manuscripts and Archives to see the poem in person and begin authenticating it.