Libbie Henrietta Hyman (December 6, 1888 - August 3, 1969), zoologist, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Joseph Hyman and Sabina Neumann. Hyman's father, a Polish/Russian Jew, adopted the surname when he immigrated to the United States as a youth. He successively owned clothing stores in Des Moines, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in Fort Dodge, Iowa, but the family's resources were limited. Hyman attended public schools in Fort Dodge. At home she was required to do much of the housework. She enjoyed reading, especially books by Charles Dickens in her father's small library, and she took a strong interest in flowers, which she learned to classify with a copy of Asa Gray's Elements of Botany . She also collected butterflies and moths and later wrote, "I believe my interest in nature is primarily aesthetic."
Hyman graduated from high school in Fort Dodge in 1905 as the youngest member of her class and the valedictorian. Uncertain of her future, she began work in a local factory, pasting labels on cereal boxes. Her high school teacher of English and German persuaded her to attend the University of Chicago, which she entered in 1906 on a one-year scholarship. She continued at the university with further scholarships and nominal jobs. Turning away from botany because of an unpleasant laboratory assistant, she tried chemistry but did not like its quantitative procedures. She then took zoology and was encouraged in it by Professor Charles Manning Child . After receiving a B.S. in zoology in 1910, she acted on Child's advice to continue with graduate work at the University of Chicago. Supporting herself as laboratory assistant in various zoology courses, she concluded that a better laboratory text was needed, which in time she was to supply. She received a Ph.D. in zoology in 1915, with a thesis on regeneration in certain annelid worms. Again unsure of her future, she accepted a position as research assistant in Child's laboratory, and she taught undergraduate courses in comparative anatomy.
After Hyman's father's death in 1907, her mother had moved to Chicago, bringing Hyman "back into the same unhappy circumstances which lasted until the death of my mother in 1929. I never received any encouragement from my family to continue my academic career; in fact my determination to attend the University met with derision. At home, scolding and fault-finding were my daily portion" (quoted in Hutchinson, p. 106).
At the request of the University of Chicago Press, Hyman wrote A Laboratory Manual for Elementary Zoology (1919), which promptly became widely used, to her astonishment. She followed this, again at the publisher's request, with A Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy (1922), which also had great success. She was, however, much more interested in invertebrates. By 1925 she was considering how to prepare a laboratory guide in that field but "was persuaded by [unnamed] colleagues to write an advanced text" (quoted in Hutchinson, p. 107).
While at the University of Chicago, Hyman also wrote significant taxonomic papers on such invertebrates as the Turbellaria (flatworms) and North American species of the freshwater cnidarian Hydra. She published an enlarged edition of her first laboratory manual in 1929.
In 1931 Hyman concluded that she could live on the royalties of her published books, and she also recognized that her mentor Child was about to retire. She therefore resigned her position at Chicago. Hyman toured western Europe for fifteen months and then returned to begin writing a treatise on the invertebrates. Settling in New York City in order to use the library of the American Museum of Natural History, she became, in December 1936, an unpaid research associate of the museum, which provided her with an office for the rest of her life.
There Hyman created her six-volume treatise on invertebrates, The Invertebrates, drawing on her familiarity with several European languages and Russian, which she had learned from her father. Without any assistant, she compiled notes from books and scientific papers, including those in the many journals to which she subscribed, organized the notes on cards, and wrote an account of each invertebrate group. Colleagues said that she had a prodigious memory. She took art lessons in order to illustrate her work professionally. She also spent several summers studying specimens and drawing illustrations at Bermuda Biological Laboratory , Marine Biological Laboratory, Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory , and Puget Sound Biological Station .
Volume I (Protozoa through Ctenophora) of The Invertebrates, published in February 1940, was acknowledged as "comprehensive" and "authoritative," with "illustrations designed for clarity and simplicity." Volume 2 (Platyhelminthes and Rhynchocoela) and Volume 3 (Acanthocephala, Aschelminthes, and Entoprocta), both published in 1951, were followed by Volume 4 (Echinodermata) in 1955, Volume 5 (Smaller Coelomate Groups) in 1959, and Volume 6 (Mollusca I) in 1967. Hyman's biographer Horace Wesley Stunkard noted that The Invertebrates "incorporates incisive analysis, judicious evaluation and masterly integration of information." Declining health did not allow her to finish the entire subject. The completed volumes, which continue to be significant references in zoology, represent an astonishing accomplishment by an individual.
In addition to her major project, Hyman extensively revised A Laboratory Manual for Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy in 1942 into a textbook as well as laboratory manual; she referred to it as her "bread and butter" for its income. She wrote about 136 papers on physiology and systematics of the lower invertebrates and published technical papers on annelid and polyclad worms and on other invertebrates. She commented in a letter: "The polyclads of Bermuda were so pretty that I could not resist collecting them and figuring out Verrill's mistakes" (quoted in Schram, p. 126). Addison Emery Verrill had been an earlier expert in invertebrate classification.
Hyman served as editor of the journal Systematic Zoology from 1959 to 1963. She was honored in 1961 with membership in the National Academy of Sciences, from which she had received the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal in 1951. She also received the gold medal of the Linnean Society of London (1960) and a gold medal from the American Museum of Natural History (1969). She was described as independent, outspoken, and given to poignant epithets, and as warm and generous to her few close friends. Hyman never married. She died in New York City.
- Hyman did not keep her correspondence, according to Frederick R. Schram, who found some of her letters to Martin Burkenroad in the archives of the San Diego Natural History Museum; see Schram's "A Correspondence between Martin Burkenroad and Libbie Hyman; or, Whatever Did Happen to Libbie Hyman's Lingerie," in F. M. Truesdale, ed., History of Carcinology, vol. 8 of Crustacean Issues (1993), pp. 321-48.
- A tribute to Hyman is in Edna Yost, American Women of Science (1943), pp. 122-38.
- Memorials are by
- Richard E. Blackwelder in Journal of Biological Psychology 12 (1970): 1-15
- Horace W. Stunkard (unsigned) in Nature 225 (1970): 393-94 and in Biology of the Turbellaria (1974, "Libbie H. Hyman Memorial Volume"), pp. ix-xiii, with a bibliography
- G. Evelyn Hutchinson in National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs 60 (1991): 103-14, which includes an autobiographical account by Hyman and a selected bibliography.
- An obituary appeared in the New York Times of August 5, 1969.