3 Amazing, Alarming or Transforming Scientists from Jax

May 20, 2013 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

It would be hard to overstate the sense of scientific wonder that has infected Jacksonville almost from the first days of its founding, nor the profound ways that the world has been changed by the men and women of Science from Jville. Personal Computing, the concept of Black Holes and the spread of theories that Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance', and even early attempts in the race to manmade flight by one of Jville's most astounding non male citizens. Check out some of three of our favorites after the Jump.

Eliza Wilbur Souvielle

The connection to science and Jacksonville's long tradition of strong and powerful women goes back almost 150 years in the person of Eliza souvielle, the extraordinary Great Lady of Science who towered above the academic community of this weird and tropical paradise at the end of the 19th Century.

Eliza helped to design and build the famous Marabanong House high on the hill of Empire Point, where the colonial victorian mansion served as the first beacon of light and music for visitors as the took the turn up the brackish brown waters of the St. John's River and the lights of the City of Jacksonville were suddenly visible over the moonlit waters away in the distance.  She lived in "Marabanong" starting in 1880 with her first Husband Thomas Basnett, an English Meteoroligist.

She and Thomas had named the estate after the Maribyrnong River in Australia, where the had spent time in the early days of Australian Exploration.  They told visitors and family that the word meant "Paradise", and no doubt to them it must have seemed so, for in those days, Jacksonville would have looked very similar to the lushness of the unspoiled valley where they had lived.But it actually means salt water river, which would have been very appropriate for the St. John's River.  

She also picked the exotic animals for the zoo with which they populated the grounds of their gracious home.  She was a botanist, an early proponent of scientific cultivation of plant species for medicinal purposes and experimental hydroponic techniques.  Visitors to her home woften remarked on the unusual and advanced containers and equipment which she had installed all over the place, all sprouting little known species of plants from around the world.

Eliza's primary research focus was in astronomy and she received (and still receives) international attention for her work. Aside from starting her own magazine she was published in many magazines and newspapers including the Scientific American. She was also a prominent member of the American Association of Advancement of Science.

She was the first female to lecture in science at Harvard.

In the construction of the house, she and Basnett constructed an observation turret whereby she (an astronomer) could further her studies in the remarkably clear skies of the subtropics.  Eliza was also an engineer and inventor, and during this time she created, poured and ground her own lenses and mirrors for telescopes of her own design,----some of the most powerful glasses in the country.  In fact when the strange green meteorite that crashed in Penney Farms in 1988 it was taken to Eliza Souvielles laboratory for examination, leading to published reports of 'microfossils' having been discovered in the rock.

Eliza, with her eyes towards the sky and her drive to flight was one of the early great americans to understand the global consciousness with an eye towards the Heavens at all times.

 After Thomas' passing she remarried another well-known "man of science" Mathieu Souvielle, a French throat and lunch specialist.

Eliza held multiple patents, three of which were for a telescope that she created and used for her astronomical studies.

She also created elaborate designs for proposed engines to be used in human flight.  In fact she and a few of the extraordinary Lady Aviators of Jacksonville were industriously racing similar groups around the country to become the First in Flight.  The Wilbur Brothers managed to beat the Ladies at Kitty Hawk by just a few months, a fact which didnt deter the women engineers and scientist of Jacksonville from working even harder at Moncrief Yard.

She was also one of the leading liberal and Progressive women of her age.  Jacksonville at the time was a hotbed of Progressive Politics and New England Elite Intellectualism.  Because of the decidedly pro Union tone of the City Leadership of Jacksonville during the Reconstruction Era, the area had become quite attractive to a number of retired union generals and  top brass.

Well known in the Suffrage Movement and the Women's movements of the era, she often wrote under  psuedonyms and signed many of her academic works E. Souvielle.  But even so, she was an accomplished author publishing multiple books including "Sequel to the Parliament of Religion" and The Ulyssaid, An American Epic.

Her Ullyssiad, is an epic poem modelled after the fashion of the Illiad and is in fact an unfiltered heroic retelling of the life of Ullysses S. Grant, whose popularity was at its peak when she wrote it.  As Jacksonville's true history was lost in favor of a broad Confederate Revisionism and the blatant retelling of the Jacksonville story by the men of the New Dixie and the later Pork Chop Gang, Eliza was one of the first figures blacklisted by the new regimes.  Her inventions, the amazing women of science that she gathered around her, her legacy and for the most part, all memory of her were blotted out as though they had never existed.

Today a hand edited print copy of her Ullysiad is in the keeping of the historical collection of the Library System.

But as history sometimes happens, it was impossible to erase all memory of the extraordinary women of Marabanong, if only because Eliza sold her palatial home to her cousin, Grace Wilbur Trout, whose influence as one of modern Jacksonville's City Mothers proved impossible to erase.

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