Ynés Mexía’s Story
“In all my travels I’ve never been attacked by a wild animal, lost my way or caught a disease… I don’t think there’s any place in the world where a woman can’t venture.”Ynés Mexía
Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía was born on May 24, 1870 in Washington DC, where her father, Enrique Mexía, was a Mexican diplomat. A year later, they moved to Mexia, Texas, a town founded by her ancestors. In 1879, after her parents separated, Mexía was sent to boarding school where she felt isolated and lonely. After completing her studies, she considered entering a convent, but her father asked her to take care of his ranch and household in Mexico. In 1896, her father died, and Mexía stayed in Mexico managing his businesses. In 1909, after two troubled marriages, she had a mental and physical breakdown, and her physician in Mexico advised her to seek medical help from the noted psychiatrist, Doctor Phillip King Brown. Mexía moved to San Francisco where she started psychiatric treatment. Following Dr. Brown’s encouragement, she joined the Save the Redwoods League and the Sierra Club, and became an active member of the environmental movement in California. She participated in hiking and camping trips, and developed a deep interest in plants and nature. In 1921, at age 51, Mexía enrolled at UC Berkeley, where she took classes in science and natural history and attended a university expedition where she was introduced to botany. In 1925, Mexía was invited on her first collecting trip to Sinaloa, Mexico, a group expedition sponsored by Stanford University. Mexía soon realized she would be more productive on her own, and secured funding from other institutions and ventured alone with local guides into Mazatlan and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Mexía continued to explore and collect plants in little-visited regions of North and South America, including Mt. McKinley National Park in Alaska, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Tierra del Fuego. In a 13 year career, Mexía collected more than 145,000 plant specimens, of which several new species and one new genus are named in her honor. In 1938, on her last expedition trip in Mexico, Mexía became sick and was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died on July 12, 1938. Mexía is recognized as one of the most accomplished female botanists of her time, demonstrating how there is no age limit to finding your passion in life.
Featured in the Film
Durlynn Anema, PhD, is an author and counselor. She has written over 15 books including biographies, textbooks, and self-help books. Anema has written biographies featuring women explorers of the early and mid twentieth century including Harriet Chalmers Adams: Adventurer and Explorer; Louise Arner Boyd: Arctic Explorer; Ynes Mexia: Botanist and Adventurer. Mexía is also featured in her latest adult biography, The Perfect Specimen: The 20th Century Renown Botanical Collector – Ynes Mexia.
Ina Vandebroek, PhD, is the Matthew Calbraith Perry Associate Curator and Caribbean Program Director at The New York Botanical Garden. She has conducted ethnobotanical research and outreach for 20 years, studying the relationships between plant diversity, traditional knowledge, and community livelihood and well-being, working in collaboration with indigenous and farming communities in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and New York City. Her research underscores the importance of plants for the preservation of cultural heritage. In New York City, Vandebroek uses the results of her research partnerships with Caribbean and Latino communities to develop training activities for medical students and healthcare providers, to help establish a better dialogue and trusted physician-patient relationship, and promote culturally sensitive healthcare. Vandebroek is also an Adjunct Lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences in New Haven, CT.