Bonnie C. Templeton Biography

Bonnie Carolyn Templeton was an early female botanist who served as curator of botany for the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History from 1929 to 1970.

She was born in Newman Grove, Nebraska, on October 23, 1906, and became a botanist by chance. In 1922, at the age of 16, she had moved alone to Los Angeles, where she worked a number of odd jobs. The employment agency sent her to aid an amateur botanist who needed help classifying his large collection of dried plants. Dr. Templeton came away from the project with a passion for botany.[1]

She quickly learned enough about plants to become Assistant Botanist at the California Botanic Garden in Los Angeles in 1928. In 1929, she was named Curator of Botany at the County Museum of Natural History. In 1932, while collecting plants in the El Segundo sand dunes, she discovered a possible new species, a rare parasitic plant she named Pholisma paniculatum. Her designation of the plant as a new species proved controversial, and development of the dunes led to fears the plant had become extinct. In the mid-1980s the area was restored as a preserve for the endangered El Segundo blue butterfly, and a survey rediscovered the plant.

In November 1938 she married Charles Steinhoff, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, from whom she was taking flying lessons. While flying to Yuma for the ceremony, their plane developed engine trouble and they were forced to set down in the sand dunes near Palm Springs, wrecking the plane. Undeterred, they procured another plane in Palm Springs and flew on to Yuma to be married.[2]

While working full time at the museum, Templeton attended classes at night, earning her bachelor's degree in botany in 1941 from the University of Southern California. This was followed by her master's degree in 1947, writing her thesis on A Morphological Comparison of Pholoisma Arenarium Nutt, and Pholisma Paniculatum Templeton.

On October 17th, 1942, Templeton married a second time, to Chester D. Weiche. This marriage lasted until her death.[3]

Templeton's main research interest was paleobotany. She earned her doctorate in 1964 from Oregon State University, writing a thesis The Fruits and Seeds of the Rancho La Brea Pleistocene Deposits, based on her research at the Rancho La Brea deposits. Excavators at the La Brea Tar Pits early in the century had discarded most of the plant material they found, favoring the bones. But Templeton found seeds and other parts of plants in tar scrapped from inside the skulls of animals that had been trapped in the tar pits. This included the seeds of many plants that no longer grow in the area because it is too dry, demonstrating a change in climate. Her work showed that the climate of Southern California during the Pleistocene era was not similar to today's, as previously believed, but cooler and wetter. The terrain then consisted of meadows, marshes, and small streams bordered by woodland.

Dr Templeton began her career at a time when there were few women in science. In a 1993 Los Angeles Times interview, she recalled that the head of the biology department at USC refused to admit her to the doctoral program, telling her that no woman would get a doctorate in botany while he was there.[4]

As well as working as the Curator of Botany at the County Museum of Natural History, Dr. Templeton served as an on-call forensic botanist for the Los Angeles Police Department, consulting on the 1929 homicide of Virginia Brooks and the 1949 Louise Springer case, and the 1953 kidnapping of Bax Shorter.[5] She gave public lectures on California wildflowers, desert flora, and gardening, organized plant shows at the museum, and was an active member of the American Association of University Women. She left the museum in 1970 after 41 years there. Scorning retirement, she founded the California Botanical Science Service, a private consulting business in Glendale, which she operated for another 20 years.[6]

Dr. Templeton died of a heart attack and kidney failure January 29, 2002, at the age of 95. She left endowments to Oregon State University to support graduate student research and maintenance of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology's teaching collection. The Dr. Bonnie C. Templeton Annual Lecture at Oregon State was established in her memory.


 

[1] Obituaries, B. Templeton, 95, Los Angeles Times, 5 Feb. 2002, p. B11. Proquest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times.

[2] “Along El Camino Real With Ed Ainsworth.” Los Angeles Times, 23 Nov. 1938, Proquest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times, p. 13.

[3] Sharlow, Shanda, Bonnie C. Templeton: A Reflection of Her Life. Kindle edition, locations 106-20.

[4] Kowsky, Kim. “Botanist's Belated Reward 61 Years After She Found a Plant on the Dunes, It May Turn Out to Be a Unique Species.” Los Angeles Times, 20 August 1993, p. B-3.

[5] Sharlow, Shanda, Bonnie C. Templeton: A Reflection of Her Life. Kindle edition, locations 108-24.

[6] Obituaries, Bonnie Templeton, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 February 2002, p. B-5.

 

Chronology

1906. Born in Newman Grove, Nebraska, on October 23.

1922. Came to Los Angeles.

1928. Assistant Botanist at the California Botanic Garden in Los Angeles.

1929. Named Curator of Botany at the County Museum of Natural History.

1932. Discovered a possible new species, Pholisma paniculatum.

1938. Married Charles Steinhoff.

1941. Earned Bachelor's degree in Botany from the University of Southern California.

1942. Married Chester D. Weiche.

1947. Earned Master's degree in Botany, writing her thesis on A Morphological Comparison of Pholoisma Arenarium Nutt, and Pholisma Paniculatum Templeton.

1947. Field trip to Mexico.

1953. Field trip to Guymas, Mexico.

1955. Field trip to Montreal, Canada.

1955. Field trip to Mexico.

1959. Field trip to Canada: Montreal, Rougemont, and Ottowa.

1960. Field trip to Mexico.

1964. Earned Doctorate in Botany from Oregon State University, writing a thesis on The Fruits and Seeds of the Rancho La Brea Pleistocene Deposits.

1966. Field trip to St. Lucia Mountains, St. Lucia, Caribbean.

1968. Botanists' field trip to Catalina Island.

1968. Colorado fossil desert bed field trip.

1970. Retired from County Museum of Natural History.

1974. Traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Fiji.

1976. Traveled to Scandinavia.

2002. Died January 29 at the age of 95.