(Photo by Cheryl Swaney)

(Photo by Cheryl Swaney)

I’m Diana Parsell, a writer, editor and former science journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. I built this website and blog to chronicle my  research and writing of a book on Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore.

I first crossed Scidmore’s path a decade ago, though I didn’t know it at the time. While living and working in Indonesia, I bought an Oxford University Press 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 too had visited. The writing was lively and evocative even a century later.

Who was this guy, “E. R. Scidmore,” I wondered, 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 had led a remarkable life, despite the gender constraints of the 19th century. She also played an essential role in giving Washington its cherry trees.

I had lived in Washington for three decades and went nearly every year to see the trees in bloom. How Had I never heard of this remarkable woman?

Having access to the amazing Library of Congress is a perk of living in the Washington area. I headed there to see what more I could find out. My search turned up original copies of Eliza Scidmore’s seven books, articles she published and many references to her in biographical indexes. 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 made my home in Washington. Scidmore came to D.C. from Wisconsin as a child; I moved here from southeastern Ohio after college.

Other parallels: journalism and ties to National Geographic.

Eliza was a contributing writer, editor, and photographer for the magazine during its formative years, when it was evolving from a staid scientific journal into a popular magazine known for its photography. I started my editorial career at National Geographic as a layout assistant to its late legendary art director Howard Paine. I left to get an M.A. in journalism at the University of Missouri, and over the years my editorial work has included working as a contract writer or editor for several divisions of National Geographic.

As lead content writer for the last three editions of National Geographic’s Traveler’s Guide to Washington, D.C., I’ve gained a lot of good historical context for writing about Eliza Scidmore, the Gilded Age in Washington and the city’s famous cherry trees.

Besides doing journalism and science writing, I’ve also had positions in public information and editorial project management. I’ve published in a wide range of media outlets, and have worked for The Washington Post, the National Institutes of Health, the 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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