Elizabeth Atwater was the wife of Samuel Atwater, an official of the United States Government during the Lincoln administration. Her husband’s business allowed her to travel to various parts of the United States where she enjoyed collecting objects of natural history.
Her mineralogical collections are among the 20,000 specimens at the Chicago Academy of Sciences. Among the highlights of the collections are some of the earliest known specimens from the Chicago area, collected by Atwater, dating back to the 1850′s. Among the more esoteric collections in the Academy is Atwater’s scrapbook, which contains, among other things, samples of George and Martha Washington’s hair. Atwater was on speaking terms with Mary Todd Lincoln and received “a gorgeous, photographic Album presented to me on last New Years day by Mrs. Lincoln, wife of our martyred President” (March 36, 1867).