Rosa Smith Eigenmann

Grace Green


Rosa Smith was born in Monmouth, Illinois on October 7, 1858. She was born to a very poor family, in a very small house. She was the last of nine children. Born right before the Civil War, (and on the Union-Confederate border), life was very difficult and hectic for them. She also witnessed the end of the Civil War in her early childhood, which she later marked as an important experience in her life.


Rosa had recently written a scientific paper on the blind goby when David Starr Jordan saw her. He urged her to study with him at Indiana University.So after she finished school at Point Loma Secondary, she joined him at Indiana University, where she was later introduced to her husband, George Eigenmann. Later, she took classes at Harvard with her husband, where she published some papers, and a 500 page review of South American catfishes.


Rosa was famous for being one of the first female ichthyologists. With the help of her husband, she classified and described over 150 species of fish. She had to overcome the taboo of female scientists, and became the first notable female ichtchyologist. Although she never received any special awards, she does have a hall named after her and her spouse at Harvard University.


Rosa married Carl Eigenmann, and had 5 children, 2 of which had to be institutionalized and a disabled daughter. After Carl died of a stroke, Rosa moved to San Fransisco, California with her children. She lived until January 12,1947 but was no longer scientifically active.


She lived through World War 1, World War 2, and the Great Depression. This made her work on what little money she had and be very resourceful. Also, one of Rosa's brothers died serving in WW1, which had a big emotional affect of her life.


Rosa was inspired by David Starr Jordan, who gave her a chance. I think Rosa Eigenmann is inspiring because she overcame expectations and became a successful scientist. Without Rosa Eigenmann, many species of fish wouldn't have been classified until much later. She contributed to others by writing informative papers on unknown fish. She led by example and set an impressive precedent for female scientists. If it weren't for her, who knows how long it would've been before another woman stepped up?

I think her greatest quote was, "You should never say something was 'well done for a woman'."


Rosa Smith Eigenmann: American Ichthyologist, 1858-1947 (M.A. Thesis).