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Like Elizabeth Peckham, Nellie Harris Rau was part of a husband and wife team.  Born near Athens, Ohio, sometime in the 1880s (exact date does not appear to be known), she moved with her parents to Kansas when she was only three.  Her family finally moved to Lawrence where she attended high school and eventually got her degree in library science at the University of Kansas.  

Her interest in natural history was directly fed by her brother, J. Arthur Harris, who had gotten a Ph.D. in biological sciences and worked for a time at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. She was hired as a cataloger there for a few years starting in 1904, returning to Lawrence to finish her degree in 1909. Between 1908 and 1909, Nellie accompanied her brother on a trip to England. Her brother moved to Cold Springs Harbor and she returned to the Missouri Botanical Garden where she met Phil Rau.  There is some evidence that she was the inspiration for Phil Rau ever taking up the subject for which they are known - studies on the behavior of wasps. The couple were married in 1911, shortly after Phil published his first work on his own on wasp behavior. Although Phil had only a 4th grade education plus two years as a special student at Washington University, he was a prolific reader and his marriage to Nellie certainly aided him in his studies.

They had three children, a daughter and two twin sons, and their daughter later recalled that Phil and Nellie always wrote their research up together.  Finally they published "Wasp Studies Afield" in 1918. Among other classic observations of wasp behavior in the field they observed tool-using by wasps in the genus Ammophila, which had been reported earlier by others. This and their other observations were among the pioneering research of wasp behavior in the wild.  It is interesting that Elizabeth Peckham was also a librarian and that with her husband wrote a book on wasp behavior, but the Peckham's interest was mostly centered on jumping spiders.

Nellie Rau was a very close observer of nature and an equal of her husband Phil in this endeavor.  She is another example of the ability of women who are interested in a subject to be able to do as well as men in that subject.  

Literature Reference:

Bonta, Marcia Myers. 1995. American Women Afield: Writings by Pioneer Women Naturalists. Texas A & M University Press.

Rau, Phil, and Nellie Rau. 1918. Wasp Studies Afield.Princeton University Press.

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 08:38 PM PST.

Also republished by Backyard Science, SciTech, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, and History for Kossacks.

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