Mary Louisa Duncan Putman


"Mary Louisa Duncan Putnam was indeed the guiding spirit behind the Davenport Academy and without her... the Quad Cities region would not know the benefits of an institution like the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science."
—Michael J. Smith, 1991

Mary Louisa Duncan Putnam's primary contribution was the work she did in the development of the Davenport Academy of Sciences. Born in 1832, she became involved with the Academy in 1868, was its first woman member, and later became its president. To make known the findings of the Academy's scientists and its growing collection of artifacts, she organized the Ladies Centennial Committee that raised money and published the first Proceedings of the Academy. These proceedings achieved worldwide circulation, and the accomplishment was called a "unique enterprise for men." Through her efforts, the first Academy of Science building was constructed. She also established natural history programs for children and adults at the Academy. Having borne eleven children, eight of whom survived to maturity, Putnam was highly committed to public education. In 1902, she was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the highest honor that organization bestowed on anyone at the time. When she died in 1903, Putnam left a trust for the continued publication and distribution of the Proceedings. Today, the Davenport Academy of Sciences serves the Quad-Cities community and the state of Iowa as the Putnam Museum of History and Natural Science. She was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1991.