Helen Beatrix Potter was born on this day in 1866. We all remember her for her remarkable children’s books featuring animals such as Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle but she was also a natural scientist, mycologist, prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep, farmer and conservationist. Her family had inherited the wealth that came from the Lancashire cotton mills, the infamous industry that crippled India’s textile economy. The Potters preferred to ignore their past and live a life of upper-middle-class comfort.
Beatrix Potter and her brother Bertram led a life where art and imagination held sway. They were deeply connected with animals and owned several rabbits, squirrels, bats, birds and insects. Potter’s early sketches paved the way for her future as illustrator with no rival. From a young age, she journaled and was privately tutored in astronomy, botany, entomology, etc.
She had a scientific bent of mind and her detailed drawings of fungi reveal her keen interest in pursuing her scientific passion but it was not to be.
Her keen interest in fairytales and fantasy and her wide reading enabled her to start her career as author-illustrator. She was fiercely independent and was enterprising enough to design Christmas cards and sell them.
She also wrote detailed letters filled with the germ of her future stories. One such letter to a sick child featured the famous bunnies Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter – this letter was self-published as The Tale of Peter Rabbit. After multiple rejections by publishers, her book was later acquired by Frederick Warne & Company.
She even patented the Peter Rabbit doll and introduced the idea of character-based merchandise such as wallpaper, games and toys. She authored 30 books and her books continue to sell throughout the world in different languages and were adapted in songs, films and even ballet.
Later in her life, her interests were aligned with the conservation of the Lake District where she lived with her husband.