Dr. Alice L. Kibbe(1881 – 1969), teacher and botanist, was Professor and Chair of Biology at Carthage College in Carthage, Illinois from 1920 to 1956. She was noted in the region as a natural historian, philanthropist, and traveler, and for her role as an early female academic leader.
Early youth: Alice Kibbe was born June 27, 1881, in Bridgewater, South Dakota, where her father published a newspaper. Her interests in biology and botany were formed early as she explored the local prairie lands. She attended a Baptist College in Sioux Falls and began her teaching career at the age of seventeen in a rural school near her home.
Expanding education and early achievements: The family moved to Bellingham, Washington, where she attended the State Normal School, and spent her summers working at the Marine Biological Station of the University of Washington, She received her Bachelor’s degree in 1910 from the University of Washington, followed by an Master of Arts in 1914. She taught in Washington High Schools for three years and at the end of World War I was the only woman in the nation teaching under the Smith-Hughes Agriculture Act. Subsequently, she attended Cornell University and attained a Master of Science degree in 1920.
A Recognized Professional: In the fall of 1920 she reported to Carthage College as a teacher in the Biology department and immediately began work on her doctoral theses, a botanical survey of Hancock County, which was published later, in 1952, as A botanical study and survey of a typical mid-western county: Hancock, Illinois; Covering a period of 199 years, from 1833-1952. The research brought her in contact with the work of other botanists, including Dr. Meade, Dr. Kellogg, Mark Tandy, Dr. Ehinger and others whose work had been forgotten by local residents. Correspondence preserved by families of these men, from Asa Gray and other famous American botanists was the basis for her second book, “Afield with Plant Lovers,” published in 1953. She did much to interest the people of the county in their own natural history and the work of local scientists.
Philanthropy: Dr. Kibbe was head of Carthage College’s biology department from 1920-1956 and the professor and curator of the college museum from 1956-1964, when the college moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin. Realizing that many of the items in the museum should remain in Hancock County because of their local provenance and significance, Dr. Kibbe purchased them from the college and then deeded her collection and her home (a historic property itself) to the city for a museum. A wildlife preserve at the north edge of town, which she had purchases in the 1920’s, was deeded to the Carthage Park District as an addition to the city park. A wildlife tract in Warsaw, Illinois, which she had purchased in 1941, was given to Western Illinois University. The University improved the buildings and named the tract in her honor, the “Alice Kibbe Life Science Station.”
These donations were the culmination of a life devoted to the interests and concerns of others. Dr. Kibbe took a deep personal interest in her students, the elderly, and the poor. The museum holds records of the recollections of many who speak of her financial and spiritual generosity.
In 1964, Dr. Kibbe retired to Bellingham, Washington to be near her sister. She passed away on 21 January, 1969. Her legacy lives on.