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date: 06 February 2023

Smith, Annie Lorrainfree


Smith, Annie Lorrainfree

  • Mary R. S. Creese

Annie Lorrain Smith (1854–1937)

by unknown photographer

© The Natural History Museum, London

Smith, Annie Lorrain (1854–1937), mycologist and lichenologist, was born on 23 October 1854 in Everton, Liverpool, a younger daughter of the Revd Walter Smith, minister in the Free Church of Scotland, and his wife, Annie Lorrain, née Brown. The family was large and talented; three sons became university professors.

Annie received her early schooling in Edinburgh and studied French in Orléans and German in Tübingen. For a time she worked as a governess, but about 1888 began to study botany, taking classes under D. H. Scott (1854–1934) at the Royal College of Science, London. She was introduced by Scott to the department of botany in the British Museum (Natural History), where she undertook the remounting of the recently purchased de Bary collection of microscopical slides of fungi; this began an association with the museum's cryptogamic herbarium that lasted for the rest of her life. As women were then ineligible for official staff positions, she was always an ‘unofficial worker’, paid from a special fund.

Although Annie Smith did some early research on seaweeds, fungi were her special interest. Extensive work preparing exhibition stands of microfungi and three years assisting with seed testing, which included examining microfungi associated with germination, expanded her knowledge of the group. Within a short time she became responsible for identifying most of the fungi collections arriving at the museum, especially those from tropical east Africa, Angola, and the West Indies. Her studies on these and on new or rare British fungi were reported in numerous papers published between about 1895 and 1920.

From 1906 Annie Smith also worked extensively in lichenology. Following the death that year of James Crombie, one of the leading British figures in the field, she undertook to complete the unfinished second volume of his Monograph of the British Lichens. This appeared under her name in 1911, although it is now thought to have been almost all Crombie's work. However, she then thoroughly revised both volumes one and two for a second edition (1918, 1926). The Monograph, which is still an important reference work, quickly brought her wide recognition. Since it lacked workable keys she also published her well-illustrated Handbook of British Lichens (1921), the only available set of keys to all known British lichens for almost three decades.

Annie Smith was probably best known for her textbook Lichens (1921; repr. 1975), outstanding for its breadth and detail and for more than half a century the standard work in English on the historical development of the field. A reviewer, describing it as 'practically the first modern scientific work devoted solely to Lichens' (Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 1921), rightly predicted it would long remain a classic. Her separate short history of British lichenology appeared in 1922, in the South Eastern Naturalist. Also especially appreciated by her contemporaries were the reviews and abstracts of recent work on lichens she regularly contributed to botanical journals for more than thirty years. Her fieldwork in lichenology was limited mainly to the forays of the Essex Field Club and the British Mycological Society, but she took part as lichenologist in the 1909–11 Clare Island survey (co. Mayo, Ireland), one of the most successful large-scale field investigations of the time.

A foundation member of the British Mycological Society, Annie Smith regularly attended annual meetings for thirty-five years and was twice president (1907, 1917). She became one of the first women fellows of the Linnean Society in 1904, and was a council member in 1918–21. In 1922 she was president of the South-East Union of Scientific Societies. At the British Museum, with the staff depletions of the First World War, she became acting assistant in the cryptogamic department with responsibility for fungi and lichens, but still as an ‘unofficial worker’.

Vigorous, warm-hearted, and always ready to assist students and younger colleagues, Annie Smith had wide interests and strong views, including a deep commitment to the social and political goals of the women's rights movement. She enjoyed travel and visited both Australia (with the British Association) and the United States. For fifty years she shared her home with an older sister, whose death in 1933 affected her severely. A civil service pension and an OBE, conferred when she retired in 1934, came as recognition of her contributions to cryptogamic botany. She died at her home, 44 Stanwick Mansions, in west London, on 7 September 1937, shortly before her eighty-third birthday, after three years of poor health.


  • G. Lister, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, 150th session (1937–8), 337–9
  • Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 75 (1937), 328–30
  • D. L. Hawksworth and M. R. D. Seaward, Lichenology in the British Isles, 1568–1975 (1977), 26–7
  • Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information [RBG Kew] (1937), 442–3
  • The Times (14 Sept 1937)
  • review of A. L. Smith's Lichens, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 59 (1921), 331–3
  • The Times (9 Sept 1937)


Wealth at Death

£7991 13s. 2d.: probate, 12 Oct 1937, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Natural History Museum, London, botany library
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Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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Natural History Museum, London, department of botany