ORRA WHITE HITCHCOCK (1796-1863)

In the early 1800s, Orra White Hitchcock was a unique woman. She was passionate about art, science, and education, and also supported her husband and raised six children. As a young child, Hitchcock was taught at home by a gentleman tutor, hired by her father who saw great value in education for both men and women. She later attended boarding school and a finishing school, where she excelled in Latin, Greek, and the natural sciences.

In 1813, after completing her schooling, Hitchcock chose to teach at Deerfield Academy rather than returning home to find a husband. During her years at Deerfield, she introduced drawing, painting, and mapmaking to her pupils’ education. She also continued her work artwork, illustrating landscapes, and studies of grasses and flowers. Many of these specimens were collected by a young man named Edward Hitchcock. For eight years, the two of them shared writings and scientific pursuits, even taking trips into the Connecticut River Valley to study geology and botany.

In 1821, Orra and Edward were married, and Orra felt it appropriate to give up her career. Orra continued to create scientific illustrations, however. Edward estimated that Orra produced more than 230 plates and 1100 woodcuts over the course of her life. She also created a significant number of large drawings and paintings for Edward to use in his classroom at Amherst College.