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Nina Floy Perry Bracelin
Nina Floy Perry Bracelin, also known as “Bracie,” was born March 24, 1890, to Linda Lana Perry and Erwin Alonso Perry at her grandfather's house in Star Lake, Minnesota, where she grew up. Her mother Linda was a strong and determined woman who was bent on female individualism. She even returned to her maiden name Burfield after marrying her husband. She was insistent that Bracie become a doctor, but Bracie was turned off by the smell of the night autopsy her mother made her attend. Bracie developed an interest in botany in high school, despite her mother’s wish for her to become a doctor and have a career in medicine.
Bracie’s education consisted of having private tutors and going to private schools. She later took botany courses at the University of California, Berkeley. Bracie was very committed to her learning; she took detailed notes and drawings of the shape of leaves. She also took two mechanical drawing classes, which likely helped her draw charts and graphs for the medical departments at UC Berkeley during World War II.
Meeting Ynes Mexia and work with the Academy
She met Ynes Mexia in 1927 while taking an extension course at the University of California, Berkeley called “Six Trips Afield” and they became friends. She became Mexia’s assistant in 1928 while she was still employed at UC Berkeley’s Herbarium, but was employed at CAS temporarily in the 1930’s as an assistant to Alice Eastwood after they saw how helpful Bracie was to Mexia. She organized, labeled, and helped document the botanical collections of Mexia. She gathered the specimens Mexia collected abroad and sent them to botanists around the country to have them identified. She typed thousands of labels for the specimens including their genus, species, locality, and collection date, and made sure all of Mexia’s field notes and records were organized. She was very close with Mexia, regarding her as an older sister or mother figure, and spent a lot of time with Mexia when she was sick and was with her when she passed away. After Mexia passed away, she left $3,000 in her will to employ Bracie at CAS as an assistant of Alice Eastwood from 1940-1943. Bracie was paid approximately $1000 per year. After the money ran out, Eastwood convinced CAS to let her stay, requesting her salary come from the Exhibits department, since Bracie had recently arranged a wildflower display in the museum hall in April 1942. The purpose of the exhibit was to allow guests to identify flowers they saw outside of the museum, to educate people on the native flowers in San Francisco, and to avoid redundant questions about the same flowers. Bracie still went to the UC Berkeley herbarium nights and weekends to work on the Mexia collection.
Working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture
From 1943 to March 31,1960, she was staff of the Western Research Laboratory, U.S. Department of Agriculture, in Albany, California. To get hired, she had to fill out questionnaires and had to get five references. The USDA wanted the job to fit her and not the other way around. She was a Scientific Aide in the Microbiological and Service Section of the Commodity Processing Division, working in two different labs with dehydrated and frozen foods. After five years of working there, she was not granted a raise while others were, so she wrote a letter to her supervisor advocating for herself, and her letter seemed to work because she got a promotion. Since Bracie was such a hard worker, she worked there 48 hours a week. Despite working at the USDA for such a long amount of time each week, she still worked on the Mexia collection at UC Berkeley on nights and weekends.
Working at the UC Berkeley Herbarium
Bracie thought WWII was useless and thought energy could be put into actually solving the problems of the world instead of fighting and hurting or killing innocent people. She also thought that women should be drafted as well, so the war would be over faster, but realized many used the war as an opportunity to gain money and resources. During WWII, she was laid off from UC Berkeley because they cut staff to save money. Although Bracie was busy with work, she gave 4 pints of blood and tried to help with the war support. Due to food rationing during the war, people were encouraged to grow their own victory gardens to help feed themselves and Bracie planted two victory gardens which shows how she tried her best to help.
Bracie was employed at the UC Berkeley Herbarium in the 1930’s, she had a small office on the bottom floor of the herbarium. Although Bracie was busy with work, she gave 4 pints of blood and tried to help with the war support. Due to food rationing during the war, people were encouraged to grow their own victory gardens to help feed themselves and Bracie planted two victory gardens which shows how she tried her best to help.
She worked 12-18 hours a day and would split her time between CAS and UC Berkeley. She was so dedicated to her work that she continued to work even when was sick with pneumonia or other ailments. She stressed the importance of taking clear notes so that the study could be continued in the future. As a woman in STEM she was upset that she didn’t get as many opportunities and funding as men, who didn’t work as hard as she did, had received. She was so upset at the inequalities that she wished she was born a man so her research would be easier. She had several species of plants named after her like Salix and Fuchsia (Fuchsia bracelinae and Salix lesiolepisbracelinae). Philip A. Munz from Pomona College thought she and Mexia should have flowers named after them. She had a willow named for her by Carlton Ball.
In her personal life, she was passionate about music and attended many operas and symphony performances. She was also passionate about science because she was gifted a life membership to CAS by her Botany colleagues. She loved birds and collected photographs of them. She was a cheerful and friendly person and helpful to others. She spent her Sunday mornings for several years collecting approximately 20,000 specimens from the Blake Garden in Berkeley. She donated sets of these specimens to CAS, the UC Berkeley Herbarium, and to some of her botanist friends at herbariums across the country, all done at her own expense, and on her own time. She donated a herbarium to CAS and donated many more plants and observations she made. She was on the advisory board of the American Historical Company. Along with being in the Copper Club, and Audubon Association, she was also a life member of the Sierra Club and valued botany a lot. She went on field collecting trips/vacations with the Sierra Club and collected specimens with her other botanist friends. She always wanted to go to South America, but she was never able to go due to lack of funds. She tried to learn Spanish too. She was asked to be a member of the Women’s Faculty Club at UC Berkeley even though she wasn’t faculty. She was accepted because of her many contributions to the university.
An imperfect person
Despite being a marginalized woman in the sciences at a time when opportunities in this field were limited for women, Bracie held racist views of Black and Jewish people. Bracie wrote in a letter that she felt Black people didn’t act responsibly because they “weren't taught how.” She thought they were treated well during slavery just because they were “fed, clothed, and housed” but dismissed the treatment they received. Her perception of Black people was likely from the media and she likely never encountered Black people in her lifetime. Bracie had very stereotypical views on Jewish people as well, she claimed “one can be sure they (Jewish people) will hang onto it (money) until the last drop.”
Bracie died on July 8, 1973, in Berkeley, California after suffering from a long illness.
Radcliffe, J. (n.d.). Nina Floy Perry Bracelin (1890-1973) - California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/library/special/bios/Bracelin.pdf
Bracie's fuchsia. The Fuchsietum | A Garden in Portland. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2022, from https://fuchsietum.com/blog/files/bracies-fuchsia.php
Nina Floy Bracelin papers, Special Collections, California Academy of Sciences Library, San Francisco, CA
Nina Floy Bracelin papers, University and Jepson Herbaria Archives, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
About the authors
Zuri Lubensky is a Careers in Science Level 2 intern at the California Academy of Sciences.
Hailey Santana-Juarez is a Careers in Science Level 3 intern at the California Academy of Sciences.
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