Lucretia Breazeale Hamilton (1908-1986)

Inducted in 2006

hamilton 06Used by permission from the Lucretia Breazeale Hamilton Family

Born in East Falls Church, Virginia on March 27, 1908, Lucretia Breazeale moved to Arizona with her family in 1920 when her father accepted a position at the Sacaton USDA Experiment Station on the Pima Indian Reservation.  In 1922, the Breazeales moved to Tucson where Lucretia finished grammar school, graduated from high school and attended the University of Arizona.  She majored in botany and minored in art, becoming a botanical laboratory assistant.  Even as a college student, her prowess in botanical illustrating helped other students to understand the field of view in their microscopes.  She graduated with a B.S. in botany in 1932.

In 1935, she married Louis Hamilton, a horticulturalist who worked for the USDA Soil Conservation Service on the Navajo Reservation.  The Hamiltons lived in Shiprock, New Mexico and made many Navajo friends.  In 1938, Lucretia and Louis Hamilton moved to Tucson to work at the Tucson Plant Materials Center.  Lucretia gave birth to two children, a son and a daughter, and continued to develop as a plant illustrator.  University of Arizona professors asked for her assistance in producing illustrations for articles and later for books.

Sometimes a single illustration required months or years to complete, as Lucretia Hamilton waited for the plant to go through its seasons of flowering and fruiting.  Illustrating cacti became her special area of interest and expertise.  Many illustrators avoided these plants due to the complexity of the myriad of spines and the discomfort of handling the prickly specimens.  She co-authored Plants that Poison with Dr. Ervin Schmutz and illustrated Cacti of the U.S. and Canada by Dr. Lyman Benson.  The latter book took approximately 25 years to complete.  Hamilton also illustrated 14 other books and numerous technical bulletins for the University of Arizona.  Known for her sharp, professional drawings, Lucretia Hamilton was one of 181 artists from 29 countries invited to participate in the International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustrations at the Hunt Botanical Library in Pittsburgh in 1973.

Botanists in the field and professors greatly appreciated her scientific illustrations. “Her work has benefited 3 generations of students and professionals,” and “is a significant part of Arizona scientific heritage,” wrote Rodney G. Engard, Director of Tucson Botanical Gardens in 1987.  Regarding Lucretia Hamilton’s illustrations of cacti, “There is no more complete or accurate record of these plants anywhere,” wrote Robert Breunig, Executive Director of the Desert Botanical Gardens in 1992.

Lucretia Breazeale Hamilton was a founding member of the Native Plant Society.  She remained an active member throughout her life while also continuing to study and illustrate plants.  She died in 1986.