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Who is Beatrix Potter?

Niki Acker
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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Beatrix Potter is the author and illustrator of a series of children's books about animals. She is best remembered for her first story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first published in 1902. She was also an animal lover and an amateur scientist, though she was discouraged from her scientific pursuits by the Victorian society in which she lived.

Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in Kensington, London. Her parents, Rupert William and Helen Potter, both inherited wealth and spent most of their time socializing, though her father was a trained barrister. Her only sibling, a younger brother named Bertram, went to boarding school, and her main companions as a child were consequently her pets.

Beatrix Potter had an indiscriminate love of animals and nature and an impressive list of unusual pets, including frogs, newts and a bat. Potter also had two rabbits and a rat whom she would later immortalize in her books: Benjamin Bunny, Peter Rabbit, and Samuel Whiskers. She was very close to Peter and took him everywhere with her on a leash. She sketched her animals, developing the skill she would later use in her scientific endeavors and her beloved books.

When she was 15 years old, Beatrix Potter met Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, the vicar of the English Lake District where her family rented a summer home. He impressed the importance of conservation upon Potter, as both shared a love of their natural surroundings, and later founded the National Trust, to which Beatrix Potter would bequeath nearly all of her property upon her death. She also began keeping a journal in secret code around this time, a practice she would continue until the age of 30.

In her 20s, Beatrix Potter developed an interest in science, particularly in fungi and lichens. She was one of the first to postulate that lichens are a symbiosis of fungi and bacteria, a fact now unanimously accepted in the scientific community. She also completed an extensive series of detailed watercolors of microscopic images of fungi and wrote papers on the subject. Though Potter was supported in her work by her uncle, renowned chemist Henry Enfield Roscoe, and respected throughout the country, scientific institutions of the day refused to accept her as a student, admit her to meetings, or publish her work because she was a woman. The Linnean Society issued an official apology to Potter in 1997.

Beatrix Potter first wrote her animal stories as a hobby, and her family encouraged her to seek publication. Though she had initial difficulty finding a publisher for The Tale of Peter Rabbit, it was a great success. She became engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne, though her family objected. Sadly, he died shortly after the engagement.

With a growing income of her own, Beatrix Potter began purchasing land, beginning with Hill Top Farm in the Lake District. Potter married her solicitor, William Heelis, in 1914, and the two settled at Hill Top Farm. She continued writing into her sixties, though her eyesight began to fail. Many of her later books reference the Hill Top Farm. Though she and her husband were childless, they kept many pets, including a hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle after the title character of her 1905 book.

Potter also spent her time at Hill Top Farm raising and showing sheep, eventually becoming President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association. She bought more land with her inheritance from her parents and spent her later years with her husband in Castle Cottage in Sawrey. Beatrix Potter died on 22 December 1943. Ever the conservationist, she donated the great majority of the land she owned to the National Trust and had her ashes scattered over the countryside.

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Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon184524 — On Jun 08, 2011

I was named after Beatrix Potter. I'm a thirteen-year-old American girl and still love her stories.

By cmsmith10 — On Mar 12, 2011

@dill1971: It was another ten years before anyone tried to produce any of Potter’s characters. A firm called Grimwades created a model of Jemima Puddleduck and sent it to Potter for approval. She didn’t like it but she was interested in the company. She sent them some clay figures that she had made. She had sent these same figurines to Royal Doulton ten years earlier.

They made another model of Jemima Puddleduck and Beatrix really liked it. She just didn’t like the coloring. She thought that Royal Doulton and Grimwades should join since Royal Doulton had much more experience in coloring the figurines. Nothing ever came of that, either.

It wasn’t until after she died that her wonderful characters were finally produced as figurines.

By SnowyWinter — On Mar 10, 2011

@dill1971: The Beatrix Potter Figurines are, unfortunately, no longer in production. I do not know if you are familiar with the story of how she started the figurines, but it is very interesting.

Beatrix herself first thought of having her hand-drawn creations made into a marketable product. Around 1907, she used clay to make some model figures. She then contacted Royal Doulton’s Lambeth factory. They could not work with Beatrix because a German firm had already started producing nursery items based on her characters. Beatrix was not happy about that and tried to have their agreement altered or canceled.

I’m not sure what happened after that but if you have a genuine Beatrix Potter Figurine, you should definitely hold on to it.

By dill1971 — On Mar 07, 2011

My grandmother passed down to me some Royal Doulton Beatrix Potter Figurines. Are they still being made?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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