Josephine Tilden

Josephine Tilden, the University’s first woman scientist, was world-renowned for her studies of Pacific algae. In 1900, traveling by canoe, she discovered a largely uninhabited stretch of coastline in British Columbia with an abundance of algae and tidal pools. Recognizing the spot’s potential, Tilden contributed her own money to build a biological research station there; the Minnesota Seaside Station was completed that year. The botany department’s experiences at the station exemplified what was adventurous and new in the field of botany at the turn of the century; the research and teaching that went on there became integral parts of the department’s mission in its early years.

Up to 30 professors and students journeyed to the station by train every summer to study geology, algology, zoology, taxonomy, and lichenology; world-renowned scientists participated in the lecture series. Though students worked long hours, they also worked hard at enjoying themselves with hiking trips and evening plays and storytelling--transforming the group of scholars into close-knit colleagues. Letters from student Alice Misz to her mother during the summer of 1906 make it clear that her six-week stay at the station was the most unforgettable experience of her life.

Although the station was shut down in 1907, Tilden’s enthusiasm was not dampened: She went on to lead research expeditions to the South Pacific and continued collecting and writing long after her retirement. The research station’s legacy lives on in the Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, established in 1909, where students still mix intense research and study with camaraderie around the campfire.