Honoring Frederica Marie “Freda” Detmers during Women’s History Month

Photo credit: The Ohio State University Archives
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, the Stream + Wetlands Foundation (S+W) would like to recognize the many accomplishments of women in science throughout the years. From the discovery of radiation to the invention of Kevlar and sending us to the moon, women from around the world have played a significant and often overlooked role. We would like to take this opportunity to recognize one such trailblazer who came from right here in Ohio and her work from more than 100 years ago continues to help us still today.

Frederica Marie “Freda” Detmers (1867-1934) was a Buckeye, through and through. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1887 and in 1891 she received the first master’s degree presented by the Department of Botany that was based on research with plant pathogens from The Ohio State University (OSU). In 1889, Freda became the first woman to hold a research position for the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES), a position she held until 1892. She went on to teach science and German at North High School in Columbus from 1893 to 1906.She returned to OSU in 1906 as an instructor in the Department of Botany. Freda earned her Ph.D. in 1912 (the second doctoral degree granted by OSU’s Department of Botany), became an assistant professor and ultimately returned to OAES in 1918, becoming an assistant botanist. Eventually, she left Ohio in 1927 to become the curator of the University of Southern California herbarium.

In March 1930, she was injured in a fall during a botanical collecting trip in southern California. She later died in 1934 at the age of 67.

A true pioneer, she was credited with many firsts including:
• Her masters thesis on rust fungi of Ohio was the first in the field of plant pathology at OSU.
• She was the first scientist with a Ph.D. hired on the Wooster campus with responsibilities in the area of plant pathology.
• She was the first woman in Ohio to hold a position entirely devoted to botanical research.

During her life, Dr. Detmers published at least 28 technical papers and articles including her Ph.D. dissertation, An Ecological Study of Buckeye Lake: A Contribution to the Phytogeography of Ohio, which is a comprehensive study combining data from floristic, ecological and other viewpoints – the first such study to combine these topics into one presentation. Through her life’s work, we were left with a better understanding of our state’s ecology, particularly of the Buckeye Lake region. Her dissertation included a compilation of historical records that provides great insight into the plant community that formerly existed in this area. These details will help S+W develop an ecologically appropriate habitat restoration plan for its project located within the former Bloody Run Swamp.

The Bloody Run Swamp was a large marsh located in Union Township of Licking County, a couple miles northwest of present-day Buckeye Lake. In 2019, S+W acquired an 82-acre parcel located within the footprint of the former 600+/- acre marsh. Restoration of this small part of the former Bloody Run Swamp will take place over the next few years. Please look for updates and additional historical details of this important habitat restoration project going forward.

We would like to give a special thank you to The Ohio State University Archives for their permission to use these images of Dr. Detmers.
Photo credit: The Ohio State University Archives