Great NebraskaNaturalists and Scientists
Elda R. Walker
Elda Rema Walker taught botany at the University of Nebraska beginning in 1906 when she joined the botany faculty. She conducted research on species of algae, grasses, and plant tissues while also teaching anatomy, botany, histology, and morphology. She retired from teaching in 1947. Walker received her A.B. in 1901 and her and M.A. in 1904 from Pacific University. Her Ph.D., granted in 1907, is from the University of Nebraska.
In 1904, Elda Walker moved to Lincoln, Nebraska to study botany under Charles Bessey at the University of Nebraska. Elda planned to stay in Lincoln for only a few years but after she received her master’s degree, Bessey persuaded her to stay at the university. Leva Walker, Elda’s younger sister, came to Lincoln, Nebraska, to attend the university in 1907. Outside of research excursions and Leva’s PhD work, both sisters remained at the University of Nebraska during their long tenure as botany professors.
For their research into the field of botany, both Elda and Leva Walker often traveled around the United States for their research. Some trips were for temporary paid research positions, such as Leva Walker’s three-month trip to Washington to help with an investigation of small fruits for the United States government. Other trips were longer university-organized trips such as the 1914 botany research trip across the west coast attended by both Walker sisters alongside many other female university faculty members. Elda Walker even took a summer long trip to Hawaii and presented her findings from that trip at a dinner party at the University Club as well as to the club for graduate woman in science, Sigma Delta Epsilon.
While professors at the University of Nebraska, both Elda and Leva Walker remained active in university clubs and activities. In 1918, Elda Walker worked alongside other female faculty members at the University of Nebraska in an all-female committee charged with assisting with local Red Cross campaigns for the war effort. Both sisters were founding members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Sigma Delta Epsilon Iota Chapter in 1927. This organization, now known as Graduate Women in Science, functioned as graduate’s organization for women in science programs at the university. The newly established local chapter elected Elda as their first president while Leva served as the first Treasurer of the local chapter. The chapter later elected Leva as chapter president in 1941. However, before being elected as chapter president, Leva ran and won the election for national president of Sigma Delta Epsilon in 1931. Both sisters actively involved themselves in the sorority’s activities during their tenure at the university and continued to remain in contact with the organization following their retirements. They held many of the sorority’s meeting at their house and presented several lectures of their research over the years while in the sorority.
Outside of university activities, Elda Walker involved herself in Lincoln’s Y.W.C.A. Elda frequently attended and assisted in the banquets and bible studies by the local Y.W.C.A. during her life in Lincoln. Elda held position on the Advisory Board of the Y.W.C.A. starting in 1923.
Elda and Leva Walker retired from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1946. Following the war, Dean C. H. Oldfather recommended the Chancellor and the Board of Regents of the University place both Elda and Leva on emeritus status starting September 1, 1946. The Dean wrote to Elda and Leva underlining his reasoning by stating “My conclusion has been reached primarily upon the grounds that the post-war reconstruction years have come upon us and the well-being of the work in Botany makes imperative the immediate rebuilding from the bottom of the staff of the Department.” Following their forced retirement, Elda and Leva Walker took trips across to the United States to visit friends and family as well as attending a few national meetings for the American Institute of Biological Sciences and Sigma Delta Epsilon.
Elda and Leva’s parents were Belle Putnam Walker and Levi Chamberlain Walker. Elda was born on October 2, 1877, in Forest Grove, Oregon. She died in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 11, 1971.
(Colten Skinner, 2022)