Pennell, Francis W. (Francis Whittier), 1886-1952

Alternative names
Birth 1886-08-04
Death 1952-02-03

Biographical notes:

Born August 4, 1886 into a Quaker family, Francis Pennell Whittier grew up on a farm outside Philadelphia. Because he was thought to be delicate, he was not expected to work on the farm, and his education took place at the Westtown School. He continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his B.S. in 1911 and his Ph.D. in 1913. During his doctoral work, Pennell was encouraged by the head of the botany department, John Macfarlane, to pursue the study of Scrophulariaceae. Pennell remained at the University for a year for his post-doctoral fellowship before moving to New York to serve as associate curator of the New York Botanical Garden from 1914 to 1921. In 1921, he moved to Philadelphia to serve as the curator of plants at the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.

Although he was afraid of water, he was “always a firm believer in the necessity of personal field study, [and] his expeditions took him into Columbia from 1917 to 1918 and 1922; to Peru in 1925 and 1948; to Chile in 1925; [and] to Mexico in 1934, 1935, 1937-1938 and 1940,” (Camp, page 83). He also spent considerable time in the United States, especially in the southeastern mountains or in the west.

Pennell was considered a world authority on Scrophulariaceae and wrote The Scrophulariaceae of Eastern Temperate North America in 1935. According to Carol Ann McCormick, he “also wrote prolifically on plants outside his chosen group, on taxonomic problems, and on botanical history, such as his brief lives of C.S. Rafinesque and Thomas Nuttall.” (McCormick). In fact, he was very much interested in the lives of early American botanists, especially those whose names appeared on the Academy’s herbarium sheets as collectors, and he gathered biographical information on many. Much in demand as a lecturer on this subject, he presented biographical sketches which were often published later.

He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Botanical Society of America, the Torrey Botanical Club, and the Pennsylvania Botanical Society. In 1942, he served as president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and for many years he was president of the Philadelphia Botanical Club and editor of its journal, Bartonia . Pennell died of a heart attack on February 3, 1952.

Camp, W.H. “Francis Whittier Pennell.” Taxon, Vol. 1, No. 5, May, 1952. Page 83

McCormick, Carol Ann. “Francis Whittier Pennell.” University of North Carolina Herbarium, (accessed November 29, 2011).

From the guide to the Francis Whittier Pennell biographies of botanists, circa 1924-1952, (Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia)


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  • Botanists
  • Botany
  • Botanical gardens--Pennsylvania--Centennial celebrations, etc


  • Botany


  • Colorado (as recorded)