Helen Foot Buell, a Quiet Partner

Helen Foot Buell, 1902-1995

Ed. Note: In anticipation of a new essay on Murray (and Helen) Buell, scheduled to appear in the Bulletin‘s July 2016 issue, we wanted to share a brief profile of Helen Foot (sometimes spelled Foote) Buell, Murray’s long-time partner in life and field work—the other Dr. Buell.
Dr. Jean Langenheim met Dr. Buell during Jean’s graduate studies at the University of Minnesota in the early 1950s. In response to Dr. Langenheim’s 1986 request for information on her career, Helen Foote Buell delayed for more than a year, but finally replied simply:

My ecological accomplishments were all in conjunction with and in assistance to Murray Buell. Together we did the first (as far as I know) ecological work at Cedar Creek Natural Area, Minnesota. We contributed to the knowledge of the ecology of Itasca Park Minnesota, and with John Small started the long-term ecological work at Hutcheson Memorial Forest, New Jersey. Perhaps Murray’s biggest contribution to ecology was the start he gave the many students who began their careers as ecologists under his direction; I take pleasure in my part in having helped them some.

—Helen Buell to J.H. Langenheim, 11 May 1987
Dr. Helen F. Buell
Dr. Helen F. Buell, 1902-1995

No details on her career were forthcoming, so we have pieced together what is available to provide this account.

~1937-38 Ph.D., Phycology, University of Minnesota

“However, there was another important factor that contributed to his success. ‘Behind every great man there is a great woman.’ Helen Buell, a professional botanist and algologist, was a partner of unusual quality and together they formed a team in which graduate students became part of a botanical or ecological family.” —Niering and Cantlon, 1986
“No recounting of Murray Buell’s career could be complete without mention of his wife, Dr. Helen Foot Buell. Murray and Helen Buell worked as a team and between them maintained a lively and inquisitive interest in all things around them. Many of us were fortunate to pass through their sphere of interest.” —Bormann & Pearson, 1975
“Helen was the real ‘glue’ behind the scenes for Murray’s graduate program (15 students the last 4-5 years), attending the weekly graduate student meetings with Murray and giving sage advice to many of us, both for research and for challenges with “living”. I suspect she did a lot of editorial work, both on student theses and dissertations and for the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, for which Murray was the chief editor for many years.” —Dr. T.H. Nash III, PhD Rutgers 1971
“As a team she and Murray provided lodging for graduate students, initiated the Rutgers Ecology Seminars before which for years seminar speakers were treated to home cooked meals and then ice cream with chocolate sauce after the seminar. There is much to emulate: her grace and courtesy, her curiosity and interest in the world around her and in people, her wonderful memory even at 93, the fact that she learned to use a computer at 84, her unfailing enthusiasm…” —Leck, 1995
Although she was four years older than her husband, Helen outlived him by 20. One needn’t wonder what kept her busy during those final decades:
“At Hutcheson Memorial Forest in the 1950s she and Murray had the vision to set up a series of successional plots that she monitored for many years after he died in 1975, and that continue to be monitored today,” wrote Dr. Mary Leck in an obituary.
Although she occasionally published independently, especially her phycological work, most of Dr. Buell’s research papers were published jointly with her husband and other collaborators. In 1977, ESA established the Murray Buell Award for student papers. Rutgers University provides a student scholarship award, the Murray and Helen Buell Scholarship in Ecology, in recognition of their long association with that institution.

Barbour, Michael G. 1996. “Ecological Fragmentation in the Fifties” p 233-255 in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon. Based on interviews with Helen Buell.
Bormann, F. Herbert and Paul G. Pearson. 1975. Resolution of Respect: Murray F. Buell. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. Vol 56(4), page 26
Buell, Helen. 1987. Letter to Dr. Jean H. Langenheim, 11 May 1987.
Leck, Mary. 1995. Obituary – Helen F. Buell 1902-1995
Nash, Thomas H. III. 2016. Email about Helen Buell and Buell graduate students.
Niering, William A. and John E. Cantlon. 1986. Murray F. Buell—Further Reflections on his contributions to Ecology. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol 113(1):55-56. (includes complete list of students)
Rutgers University website. Murray and Helen Buell Scholarship in Ecology, also M. Buell Award for the Outstanding Student in Ecology

Selected Papers [in progress]
Buell, Helen Foot. 1938. A Community of Blue-Green Algae in a Minnesota Pond. Ecology Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1938), pp. 224-232 (JSTOR) [PhD dissertation?]
Buell, Helen F. 1938. The taxonomy of a community of blue-green algae in a Minnesota pond. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 65, No. 6 (Jun., 1938), pp. 377-396. (JSTOR)
Buell, MF and HF Buell. 1941. Surface level fluctuation in Cedar Creek bog, Minnesota. Ecology Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1941), pp. 317-321. (PDF at UMN) (JSTOR)
MF Buell, HF Buell. 1954. Fire in the history of Mettler’s Woods. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 81, No. 3 (May – Jun., 1954), pp. 253-255. (JSTOR)
Buell, Murray F., Buell, Helen F. 1959. Aspen invasion of prairie. Vol. 86, No. 4 (Jul. – Aug., 1959), pp. 264-265. (JSTOR)
MF Buell, HF Buell, JA Small, CD Monk. 1961. Drought effect on radial growth of trees in the William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 88, No. 3 (May – Jun., 1961), pp. 176-180. (JSTOR)
MF Buell, HF Buell, WA Reiners. 1968. Radial mat growth on Cedar Creek Bog, Minnesota. Ecology Volume 49, Issue 6 November 1968 p. 1198–1199. (Wiley)
HF Buell. 1968. Closterium gracile Breb.(Desmidiaceae)-a New Interpretation. Vol. 95, No. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1968), pp. 449-454. (JSTOR)
MF Buell, HF Buell, JA Small. 1971. Invasion of trees in secondary succession on the New Jersey Piedmont. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 98, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 1971), pp. 67-74. (JSTOR)
MF Buell, HF Buell. 1975. Moat bogs in the Itasca Park area, Minnesota. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 102, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1975), pp. 6-9. (JSTOR)
ET Moul, HF Buell. 1979. Algae of the Pine Barrens. Academic Press, New York, 1979 – books.google.com
HF Buell, RTT Forman. 1982 Three Decades of Research at Hutcheson Memorial Forest, New Jersey (USA). Bull. Torrey Bot. Club (PDF hmf.rutgers.edu)