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Isabella "Izzie" Abbott Lecture Hall

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Isabella Abbott
Isabella Abbott, 1982
Image credit: Courtesy of Stanford News Service

On May 27, 2022, Hopkins Marine Station dedicated its lecture hall to Isabella Abbott. This is a digital version of the plaque installed there in her honor. 

Isabella Aiona Abbott, a preeminent marine botanist and pioneer in her field, was Stanford’s first Native Hawaiian faculty member and first female full professor in the biological sciences division.

Professor Abbott (1919-2020) taught at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station from 1960 to 1982.

Abbott, who cleared a path for greater representation of women in higher education, worked to connect research with teaching and link scholarly achievements to real-world applications.

Friends and colleagues knew her as "Izzie.” Born on Maui, she was named Isabella Kauakea Yau Yung Aiona (in Hawaiian, Kauakea means “white rain of Hana”). Her mother was Native Hawaiian and father was of Chinese descent. She grew up in Honolulu, graduated from Kamehameha Schools in 1937 and received her undergraduate degree in botany from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 1941. She earned a master's in botany from the University of Michigan in 1942 and a PhD in botany from the University of California, Berkeley in 1950.

Abbott moved to Pacific Grove with her husband, Donald Putnam Abbott, who joined the faculty as a professor of biology at Hopkins in 1950. Don Abbott (1920-1986) was an invertebrate zoologist, an expert on tunicates and an authority on all forms of invertebrate animals. Like Izzie, he was an influential teacher, researcher, author, and student mentor.

Isabella and her husband Don Abbott
Isabella Abbott with her husband, Don Abbott, 1982
Image credit: Courtesy of Harold A. Miller Library

In 1960, Izzie was hired as a lecturer in biology and began teaching summer courses at Hopkins, along with publishing scientific papers. Her research productivity and teaching skills were so impressive that, in the early 1970s, she bypassed the usual steps on the tenure-track ladder and became a full professor in biology. In 1976, she co-authored Marine Algae of California, broadly recognized as the definitive description of marine algae along the Pacific coast. All told, she authored eight books and more than 150 scientific articles.

The National Academy of Science awarded her the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal, the highest honor in marine botany, in 1997, and she was named a Living Treasure of Hawai'i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai’i in 2005. 

In 1982, Izzie and Don retired from Stanford and returned to Hawai’i, where she taught Hawaiian ethnobotany, the study of interactions of plants and humans, at the University of Hawai’i.  Her efforts led to an undergraduate major in the subject. Abbott maintained her research endeavors and committee obligations well into her 90s, leaving behind a rich legacy of dedicated students, myriad scientific achievements, and immeasurable contributions to the marine sciences.

“lzzie,” according to a Stanford faculty memorial resolution in 2010, “was a consummate teacher and a role model to a generation of women scholars who she trained in marine botany.”