A Woman to Know: Isabella Aiona Abbott

Why is this necessary? So that Hawai’ians are not put in second- or third-class status of Native people who don’t know anything. — Isabella Aiona Abbott

Why is this necessary? So that Hawai’ians are not put in second- or third-class status of Native people who don’t know anything. — Isabella Aiona Abbott

(image via Smithsonian Institutions)

In 1950, when Isabella Aiona Abbott (known as “Izzy” to her friends) obtained her Ph.D. in algal taxonomy from the University of California at Berkeley, she became the first-ever native Hawaiian woman to earn such an advanced degree in science. She didn’t stop working for another 50 years, traveling all over the world to research more than 70 types of limu, the edible seaweed she’d first encountered as a child in Hana, Maui.

In her five-decade career, Izzy fought for more resources that could fund her study of Hawaiian ethnobotany. Thanks to her, universities began creating majors and fields of research on the topic, devoting time and energy to the flora she found so fascinating. She wrote eight books and more than 150 articles on limu, earning the nickname “the seaweed lady.” By the time she died in 2010, she’d been honored as one of Hawaii’s “Living Treasures.” A colleague called her “without doubt, the preeminent marine botanist.”

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