Mary Vaux Walcott (1860-1940) was a painter and photographer. As a young woman, she fell in love with the mountains of western Canada. She became a remarkable figure: climbing glaciers; exploring caves; riding on top of boxcars through mountains.
Walcott focused on the Selkirk Mountains and the Canadian Rockies. She painted watercolors of their wild flowers and photographed their mountainscapes and glaciers. Four hundred of her watercolors were published in the five volume North American Wild Flowers. The books resulted in her being dubbed the “Audubon of Botany”. One of the first people to explore those mountains, she surveyed and photographed them extensively, and her research is still used to study climate change and land-shaping processes. (Mount Mary Vaux in Jasper National Park, near Alberta, was named for her). She was elected to the Academy of the Natural Sciences and belonged to the Photographic Society of Philadelphia and the Photo-Succession.
Walcott came from a wealthy Philadelphia family. Married to Charles Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, she became deeply involved in the Smithsonian and was also known as a prominent Washington DC hostess. She served on the Board of Indian Commissioners, which oversaw the Bureau of Indian Affairs, too. Because of her work in the mountains, she was called “the society woman in hobnailed boots”.
Walcott was descended from a long line of Philadelphia Quakers. She attended the Friends Select School and had planned to study at Bryn Mawr. She was a close friend of Lou Hoover, President Hoover’s wife. To provide the President and the First Lady with a place to worship, she helped found Florida Avenue Meeting and raised money to build the Meetinghouse. As well, she used the plain language throughout her life.
Walcott’s paintings of wild flowers were detailed and exquisite. Her photographs, especially of glaciers, were sometimes breathtaking.