(Photo by Cheryl Swaney)

(Photo by Cheryl Swaney)

I’m Diana Parsell, and I began this website to chronicle my  research and writing of a book on Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.

Eliza Scidmore entered my life a decade ago, though I didn’t yet know it. While living in Jakarta, I bought the reprint of an 1897 travel narrative, Java, the Garden of the East. I never got around to reading it so I shipped it home with our other things when we left. One day I came across it again on a shelf in my home office. As I read bits of it I grew nostalgic about places in Indonesia I had visited. Who, I wondered, was this author “E. R. Scidmore”? And what took him to far-off Java a century ago?

I did a quick online search. What I discovered astonished me: Not only was the author a woman, but she led a remarkable life, despite the gender constraints of the 19th century.

Having access to the amazing Library of Congress is a perk of living in the Washington, D.C., area. I headed there to see what more I could find out. My search turned up original copies of Eliza Scidmore’s seven books and many articles she published. But there was no biography. Since then I’ve been piecing together her story for a book. My working title: A Great Blooming.

Like Eliza Scidmore, I was born in the Midwest but have lived mostly in Washington. Scidmore came here from Wisconsin as a child; I moved here from southeastern Ohio after college. Other parallels: journalism and ties to National Geographic. Eliza was a writer, editor, and photographer for the magazine. I started my editorial career there as a layout assistant to the art director, until I left to get an M.A. in journalism at the University of Missouri. Over the years I’ve been a contract writer for several divisions of National Geographic. I updated the last three editions of National Geographic’s  Traveler’s Guide to Washington, D.C., which has enriched my knowledge of local history.

My career has been a mix of journalism, science writing, public information, and editorial project management. I’ve worked for The Washington Post, National Institutes of Health, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and The Chronicles of Higher Education and Philanthropy, among others. From 1999 to 2009 I traveled regularly to Southeast Asia as a writer and editorial consultant for international-development research centers.

Samples of my published work are available at

7 Responses to Author

  1. Rumi Umino

    Dear Diana,

    Sorry not to have written you such a long time. How are you?
    Today, I am watching a Japanese TV show “Discover Wonders in the World” (Sekai Fushigi Hakken), partly featuring Scidmore, and have thought of you!
    Here, you maybe able to watch a trailer.

    Keep in touch!

    • Rumi.
      Thanks for alerting me to this. I knew it was expected to run on Match 18. The film crew was here in Washington last month to interview me. (See my blog post about it.) I’ve now found the program on YouTube.
      It was great seeing you again during my trip to Japan in March 2013. I hope I’ll make it back before too long and we can reconnect. My book on Eliza Scidmore is coming along well. I’m now working on last few draft chapters of the manuscript (before starting a major revision from start to end). Scidmore was so prolific a writer that it’s taking a lot of time to process the material and figure out where she was when!
      Best, Diana

  2. Ms. Parsell
    Perhaps you’ll be interested my recently published biography of Mary Vaux Walcott (1860-1940), wife of the Secretary of the Smithsonian, close friend of Lou Henry Hoover & known as the Audubon of Botany:

    Good Luck with your biography!

    • Marjorie.
      Thanks for writing. I’ll definitely look for your book. Lots of overlap in time period and interests of our two subjects, and I love reading accounts of gutsy Victorian women who defied the social conventions of their day to lead self-fulfilling lives. A women you might be interested in who turns up in my book is Mary Nitobe, from a very prominent Quaker family in Philadelphia; shocked everyone by marrying a Japanese man–apparently one of the first such mixed marriages in the country. Good luck with the book.
      Best, Diana

  3. Pingback: Becoming a Docent* at the Library of Congress | @MegWalkerinDC

  4. Jim Geraghty

    Just watched your very nice Glacier Bay trip video. Well done, but you have the wrong ship Idaho (there were three at once). If you would like a copy of the correct one, I’d be happy to share.
    Jim Geraghty

    • Hi, Jim. Thanks for pointing out the error, and for sending the replacement photo. I should have realized my image wasn’t the right ship, as I had read that the ship Eliza was on used a “modern” propeller, not a sidewheel. She wrote that the Idaho was a trim black and white ship, and the image I found seemed to match that so I used it w/ot thinking. Three ships of the same name in same period … sure complicates research. BTW, the Ancon, on which Eliza returned to Alaska in the summer of 1884, was in fact a sidewheeler. I have pics of that one as well. Now I need to correct the video! Diana

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