Born in rural Maine in 1851, Butler expressed an interest in botany from a young age. After high school, she enrolled at Eastern State Normal School Teachers College in Castine, Maine. She graduated in 1873 and settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1874, where she taught until 1911. She developed her interest in botany at the University of Minnesota, working with professors and attending collection and research trips throughout North America and the West Indies, and frequently submitting articles for circulation among members of the Gray Memorial Botanical Chapter of the Agassiz Association. In 1907, Butler and her teaching colleagues advocated for the protection of native flora in Minneapolis’ Glenwood Park, and were rewarded when the Park Board set aside three acres forming the Wild Botanic Garden. The naturalist garden was one of the earliest of its kind in North America, and the only dedicated wild garden open to the public at that time. In 1911 the Park Board gave the Garden permanent status and appointed Butler as curator. The Garden was Butler’s life’s work, and over 25 years she expanded its size to 25 acres, cultivated 503 native and imported species, and published, spoke, campaigned, and produced exhibitions to raise awareness. Minneapolis Park Superintendent Theodore Wirth praised her quarter-century of faithful devotion to the Garden, and in 1929 it was renamed in her honor. Butler retired in 1933 and died of a heart attack later that year. Wirth arranged a remembrance ceremony for Butler in the Garden on Arbor Day, during which her friends and colleagues planted an oak tree, installed a commemorative tablet, and scattered her ashes in fulfillment of her wishes.
Photograh courtesy of Hennepin County Library Special Collections