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 www.dianaparsell.com