In Memoriam - Katherine (Kay) Louise Howe Roberts
Katherine (Kay) Louise Howe Roberts
1919 - 2009
Kay Howe was a talented young artist who was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in the fall of 1944 to illustrate the Fisheries Resources of the United
States. Her immediate supervisor was Rachel Carson, then assistant editor of all
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications, who was planning a series of pamphlets
to publicize the national wildlife refuge system.
Howe was born on July 4, 1919 and grew up in Utica, N.Y. She was educated at the
Walnut Hill School, Syracuse University and the University of Iowa, where she studied
with Grant Wood and received an MA and an MFA. At Iowa, she was a colleague and
friend of Shirley Briggs. After teaching art at Wilson College in Chambersburg,
Pennsylvania, Kay found work in 1943 at the Glenn L. Martin Corporation in Maryland.
She illustrated manuals for military engineering and B-26 maintenance handbooks.
Howe invited Briggs to join her at the Martin Corporation. In 1944 Howe was hired
by the Fish and Wildlife Service after making a cold call and she in turn brought
Briggs into the Service as an illustrator in 1945. Howe enjoyed the outdoors and
had a deep interest in ornithology and conservation. Although she and Briggs were
over a decade younger than Carson, the three became friends as well as colleagues.
Kay Howe was the series designer for a projected twelve-booklet series Conservation
in Action. She also illustrated three of the five booklets that Rachel Carson wrote.
In September 1946 Howe accompanied Carson to the Parker River Refuge in coastal
Massachusetts, where she took photographs as well as sketched wildlife. In February
1947 Carson and Howe visited Mattamuskeet, a remote refuge on the easternmost coast
of North Carolina that protected the endangered whistling swan. Kay also accompanied
Carson in September on a month-long train trip out west to gather material for a
FWS migratory bird survey, Guarding our Wildlife Resources. They visited and collected
data at Bear River Refuge in Utah, fish hatcheries on the Columbia River, and at
Red Rock Lakes Refuge in Montana. The booklets which Carson authored and Howe illustrated
for Conservation in Action were published between 1947 and 1950. They are considered
among the best natural histories of the refuges that the Service ever produced,
unique for the way Carson introduced the role of ecology in the cycles and rhythms
between natural habitat and the requirements of wildlife.
Carson and Howe remained colleagues and friends until Kay left government service
in 1949. She married Maj. Sam A. Roberts in 1950. Although she lived in Atlanta,
she returned to Washington periodically to do free lance work. Carson, then on leave
from her editorial responsibilities, was struggling to complete what would be her
prize-winning book, The Sea Around Us. She asked Kay Roberts to do a few select
drawings for the book, including an illustrated chart of geologic time, an ancient
sea serpent for the frontispiece, and one or two others that were never used because
Carson could not afford to buy them. Kay also helped Rachel with the general design
and layout of the book. The Sea Around Us was published by Oxford University Press
in 1951 and became an international best-seller, garnering the National Book Award
in Nonfiction for Carson in 1952.
Roberts and Carson remained friends for the rest of their lives. Although they saw
each other only irregularly, their correspondence continued over the years.
Katherine Louise Howe Roberts died at the age of 90 in Salt Lake City, Utah. on
September 4, 2009. Her ashes are interned in West Eaton, New York cemetery. She
travelled the world with her military husband and four children, all the while maintaining
her interest in art, birds, wildlife and the environment.
Roberts contributed immeasurably to Linda Lear’s research for her 1997 biography
of Carson. She donated her diary recounting her western trip with Carson in 1947
and other letters, pamphlets and photographs documenting her work at USFWS and her
friendship with Carson to the Lear/Carson Collection at the Linda Lear Center for
Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College.
(Contributed by Marguerite H. Roberts, July 2010)