Katharine (Clark) Harding Day (1891–?), a forgotten female pioneer of American Ornithology

For several years now, I have been compiling information about a pioneer American ornithologist named Katharine Harding Day (1891–?), neé Katharine Clark, who everyone seems to have forgotten about. That she is not well known can be attributed, in part, to the systemic repression of women in science and other intellectual pursuits that was so prevalent during her time (e.g., the Matilda effect), a legacy that we are still grappling with today. Many ornithological societies of that era excluded women from membership, or if they included them, did it begrudgingly. Keep this in mind as you read on.

I will call her Katharine hereafter, to make the story easier to comprehend, since she published under two surnames. At this point, I cannot claim to have assembled anything more than a brief sketch of her life, and a bibliography of her scientific contributions, but these will at least serve to bring her name(s) out of the shadows, and perhaps to attract some other knowledgeable person to come forth with more details.

Names—this is one reason that Katharine faded into obscurity, whereas her contemporary Margaret Morse Nice (1883–1974) has become widely known among modern birders and ornithologists. Margaret married Leonard Nice in 1908, and then began her publishing career in 1910, using the same double-surname her entire life. By contrast, Katharine published under two surnames—Harding and Day—both being acquired in marriage, and for most of her life, men referred to her (in print anyway) as “Mrs. <insert husband’s name here>”.

Yep, unless you read her papers closely, or know something of her life, you would probably think that these were two different women. That her friend and colleague Arthur Cleveland Bent (1866–1954), invariably referred to her in his famous Life Histories as “Mrs. Richard B. Harding”, speaks volumes to the sexism that permeated the ornithological community of that era. For context, women achieved the right to vote just five years before Katharine began her seminal studies of songbird behavior.benjaminprestonclark

There is a rare and out of print biography of Katharine’s father that was self-published by her mother after his death (Clark 1947). Thankfully, I was able to track down a copy, that incidentally originally belonged to Ellis W. Brewster, and so was able to piece together more of the story.

Katharine C. Clark was born on February 10, 1891, in Norfolk, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Josephine Frances Allen (1868–?) and Benjamin Preston Clark (1860–1939), an American entomologist with expert knowledge of sphinx moths (Family Sphingidae). In fact, Katharine’s father even named a species of Mexican sphinx moth after her:

“I have given this form the name [Xylophanes] katharinae in honor of my daughter Mrs. Richard B. Harding, because of her keen interest in science and because this form is so close to X. josephinae, named for my wife.” (Clark 1931)

See what I mean?  Even her own father called her by her husband’s name while honoring her with a new species! There is not to my knowledge, any digital image of X. katharinae, although there is a nice writeup on Wikipedia about the species. Incidentally, the holotypes of both X. josephinae and X. katharinae are at the Carnegie Museum, but I have not yet seen them.


Xylophanes josephinae Clark, collected at La Union, Zacapa, Guatemala. Source: Dorsal Side Collection of the Mathematician Laurent Schwartz (Wikipedia.org)

On June 8, 1912, at the age of 21, Katharine married Richard Bruce Harding (1888–1945) at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal church in Cohasset, Massachusetts. In 1913, she gave birth to their first son, Richard Jr., and in 1917, their second, Robert. In 1922, the Hardings set up a bird banding station in Cohasset, and from 1925 to 1932, she published 15 times under the name K. C. Harding. These included reports of recaptured banded birds in the Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association (including its inaugural issue), and occasional notes on the nesting behavior of various species.

In 1924, Katharine spent five weeks at a camp near Holderness, New Hampshire, after which she published a short paper called “Semi-colonization of Veeries” from observations there. In that paper, she reported an unusually high density of nests and apparently no aggression among male Veeries (Harding 1925), foreshadowing my discovery of cooperative parental care and flexible mating systems in that species nearly a century later (Halley et al. 2016).

In 1930, Katharine presented on her studies of Black-throated Blue Warbler nesting behavior at the 48th meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union in Salem, New Hampshire, on October 21–24, 1930.


Group photo from the 1930 meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), held at The Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachussetts, Oct. 21–24. (Source: Library of Congress)


Closeup of the 10 women included in the 1930 AOU photo. Each individual is numbered in the photo, but the key has apparently not been digitized. Which one is Katharine?

In 1931, she published in the Auk the research she had presented at the AOU meeting, the most comprehensive study of the nesting habits of the Black-throated Blue Warbler at that time, reporting on 15 nests of banded birds that were monitored over four breeding seasons (1928–1931). That paper also included detailed descriptions of nest building and parental care (Harding 1931). Her last note in Bird-Banding published under the surname Harding, came out in 1943, in which she reported an 8 year old Song Sparrow, which at the time was a remarkable record.


Her sons Richard and Robert married, in 1938 and 1942 respectively, and their father Richard B. Harding (Katherine’s spouse) passed away on February 4, 1945. Three years later, Katharine married Freeman Day (June 12, 1948) and apparently moved with him to Eugene, Oregon. This information is gleaned from the address line of a paper she published in 1953 as “Katherine C. Day”, about the same Veery project from Holderness, New Hampshire, that she had written about previously (Harding 1925). This paper—”Home Life of the Veery”—summarized nesting data collected from 1926–32, and remained for years the only substantial paper on Veery nesting behavior (albeit of unbanded birds).

This is where, for the time being, the trail runs cold. Are there any living descendants of Katharine out there, descended from her sons Richard and Robert? The family tree in her father’s biography (Clark 1947) confirms that they had children of their own in the mid-1940s. Were Katharine’s field notebooks passed down in the family? Do they still exist?

If you know something, please share!


Pearse, E. H. D. 1954. List of descendants of John Davis and Hannah Davis Williams. Self-published.

Clark, B. P. 1931. Descriptions of seven new Sphingidae and a note on one other. Proceedings of the New England Zoological Club 12, 77–83.

Clark, J. F. 1947. Benjamin Preston Clark. Thomas Todd Co., Boston, MA.


Katherine (Clark) Harding Day — Bibliography

Harding, K. C. 1925. Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos polyglottos) nesting in Cohasset, Mass. Auk 42(1):141–142.

Harding, K. C. 1925. Semi-colonization of Veeries. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 1:4–7.

Harding, R. B., and K. C. Harding. 1925. Juncos with diseased feet. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(2):39–40.

Harding, K. C. 1926. Tree Sparrow Returns. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(1):16

Harding, R. B., and K. C. Harding. 1926. White-throats in Cohasset, Massachusetts. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(2):37

Harding, K. C. 1926. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 2(1):16.

Harding, K. G. [sic] 1927. A Black-throated Blue Warbler return near Lake Asquam, New Hampshire. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):74–75.

Harding, K. C. 1927. A partial record of the nesting of the Kingfisher. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):69–70.

Harding, K. C. 1927. The protection of ground nests while under observation. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 3(3):54–55.

Harding, K. C. 1928. Purple Finch’s nesting ceremony. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 4(3):108.

Harding, K. C. 1929. A White-throated Sparrow Return. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 4(1):29.

Harding, K. C. 1929. Further observations on the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 5(2):77–80.

Harding, K. C. 1929. Outwitting a Saw-whet Owl. Bulletin of the Northeastern Bird Banding Association 5(2):36.

Harding, K. C. 1930. A change in the nesting-habits of the Wood Pewee. Bird-Banding 1:144.

Harding, K. C. 1931. Nesting habits of the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Auk 48:512–522.

Harding, K. C. 1931. Cerulean Warbler in Holderness, New Hampshire. Auk 47:90.

Harding, K. C. 1932. Age record of Black-capped Chickadee. Bird-Banding 3:18.

Harding, Katherine G. [sic] 1942. A Purple Finch Recovery. Bird-Banding 13(3):121.

Harding, Katherine G. [sic] 1942. Unusual Chickadee Returns. Bird-Banding 13(3):121.

Harding, Katharine C. 1943. An eight year old Song Sparrow. Bird-Banding 14(3):77.

Harding, K. C. 1943. Banding a Scarlet Tanager. Bird-Banding 14(3):76.

Day, K. C. 1953. Home life of the Veery. Bird-Banding 24:100–106.




Categories: History of Science, OrnithologyTags: , , ,


  1. Thank you Matt, for this look at the science of a pioneer (for my gender) of ornithology. It is always a curiosity for me; how many other women did scientific work and are forgotten.

  2. Excellent work. Perhaps birders in Oregon can shed some light on this.

  3. She is referred to by my father, B. Preston Clark (3rd), as “Aunt Kitty”. I also have read Josephine Clark’s book. I’ll see what else I can find out.

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