March 8th is the annual date on which women are celebrated globally. However their influence and impact goes further and encompasses more than one day of recognition could adequately provide. Taking time to acknowledge the contribution they have made is an inspirational mission. There are many influential women in the Forbes family; choosing one was not an easy task. But today, we will take a look at Katherine (Kate) Mary Furbish (1834-1931).
Kate Furbish's 3x Great Grandfather, William (Forbes) Furbish, a Scottish prisoner of war, was indentured to Boston MA/Kittery ME in 1650. Katherine carried on his great character of independence and trailblazing. Her life made a lasting impact on the State of Maine, where she was born and lived out her life.
Born in Exeter, NH in 1834 her family moved to Brunswick ME when Kate was just one year old. Her parents Benjamin and Mary Lane Furbish owned a hardware store and her father became actively involved in the civic actives of their new hometown. The eldest with 5 younger brothers, Kate was very independent and spent a lot of time with her father. She developed a love for the outdoors and the bountiful variety of plants that surrounded her. She was provided an exceptional education of Literature and painting, even spending a year in Paris. She attended a series of lectures in Boston on the topic of botany and was greatly influenced by George L Goodale. She returned to Brunswick with a passion for the local flora and began a life dedicated to documenting as many species as she could discover.
One discovery was in Northern Aroostook County Maine, where in 1880 Kate discovered “a stand of plants with dull yellow corollas and fernlike leaves known as the common lousewort or scientifically called Pediculatis canadensis. This lousewort has never been found anywhere in the world except along a 130-mile stretch of the St. John River. In 1881, a group of botanists renamed this botanical find after its discoverer and it became known as the Furbish lousewort. This plant made headlines when after 100 years it was assumed to be extinct. In 1976, Kate Furbish became famous again when the Furbish lousewort was found again on the banks of the St. John River on land designated to be flooded in a $1.3 billion dam project. This rediscovery of the wild snapdragon helped stall and eventually stop the building of the Dickey-Lincoln dam and reservoir on the St. John River, which would have flooded 88,000 acres of northern Maine forests.” (Furbish, Catherine “Kate” | Maine: An Encyclopedia (maineanencyclopedia.com))
Kate was highly regarded amongst her peers and her vast works can be found in several esteemed Universities and Colleges like Harvard University, Boston MA, and Bowdoin College in her hometown of Brunswick, ME. She was a founder or member of many Botanist Societies, never marrying, and she didn’t stop working to further her research until well into her nineties.
Her death in 1931 did not end her reign of influence however. Her work is not only displayed in the institutions named above, saving the name sake endangered plant, but an Elementary school and a Nature Preserve was named in her honor in Brunswick as well. She has gone on to influence many women, as well as men, in the botanical Sciences to follow her and regard her as a trail blazer she was.