Nellie A. Brown, Tri Delta and Pioneering Plant Pathologist

The Iota Chapter of Delta Delta Delta was founded at the University of Michigan in 1894. One of its early initiates, Nellie Adelesa Brown, became a plant pathologist when few women chose to pursue that career.

After Brown graduated in 1901, she did additional study in California. During that time became a member of the Torrey Botanical Club. In 1906, she was appointed Scientific Assistant in Plant Pathology at the Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington, D. C. 

In an 1909 article, “A bacterial gall of the daisy and its relation to gall formations in other plants,” published by Dr. Charles Orrin Townsend of the Bureau of Plant Industry , it was noted that “much of the technical work in connection with the problems investigated has been performed by Nellie A. Brown, scientific assistant in the Laboratory for Sugar Beet Investigations.”

In 1912, Brown was appointed assistant plant pathologist and then pathologist in 1921. Brown’s work focused on the bacterial and fungus disease in economic and other plants. She conducted research for 35 years. She and Townsend discovered the organism responsible for crown gall, “a disease characterized by tumorous overgrowths that occur mostly on the root crown of the plant.”

Brown was a member of Washington, D.C., Tri Delta Alumnae Alliance. A 1916 Trident contained this entry, “Nellie Brown, our Alliance president, was not in California at that time, much to her regret, for she went West in May, returning about two months later. She spent over a month in California. Early in July she visited Harriet Lane in Portland, Oregon, and had the pleasure of meeting fifteen Portland Tri Deltas at an entertainment given by Harriet. While speaking of Nellie Brown I must tell you how proud we all were of her this summer when we saw her picture in the Washington Sunday.” In 1917, her picture was featured in an article in Colliers magazine on “Scientific Women in the United States.”

She attended the 1919 Tri Delta convention in Detroit. She gave her recollection of that convention in a 1921 Trident;  “The unique relationship between the alumnae of fifteen and twenty years and the graduates struck me forcibly at the Detroit Convention. It was so harmonious, so full of understanding, so lacking in criticism of the younger generation by those older. The problems of the campus which had been increased by wartime conditions were dealt with in such a broad way. Women outside of a fraternity, no matter how fair-minded, could not have done it so well for it was the unity and ‘en rapport’ spirit among and between them which made this possible.” 

Brown’s name can be found in many of the D.C. Alumnae Alliance reports printed in the Trident. The book Crown-gall of Plants: Its Cause and Remedy is available on the internet and it chronicles the experiments she did on the plants. Brown died in 1956.

Nellie A. Brown, University of Michigan Tri Delta. (Photo courtesy Fort Martin Smith Museum Association)

Nellie A. Brown, University of Michigan Delta Delta Delta. (Photo courtesy Fort Martin Smith Museum Association)


© Fran Becque,, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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