Book club members voted for Pet Turtles to be this month’s book from Marilyn Monroe’s reading list. Though the auction at Christie’s called this a book, it really is more of a booklet or pamphlet–25 pages all about how to keep pet turtles (and no, I still have not found any evidence that Marilyn Monroe owned a pet turtle!). There are two listed authors: Julien Bronson who wrote a number of pet books with this publisher, and a herpetologist from the University of Illinois, Hobart M. Smith. What really makes this booklet special, however, are the detailed illustrations of turtles by a woman named Eileen M. Hill.
Who is Eileen M. Hill? Is it possible to find her work elsewhere? Is she still alive?
I decided to investigate, and found several books of similar content, also published in the mid-20th century, that list an Eileen M. Hill as illustrator. The similar style and content lead me to believe that these books are illustrated by the same person (you can see some of the illustrations below).
One fact I was able to find about Eileen M. Hill is from the 1953 book Freshwater Tropical Aquarium Fishes: An Encyclopaedic Survey is that she was a Fellow of the Zoological Society (I believe of London), or F. Z.S., as you see on her byline in the publication.
Eileen M. Hill also illustrated Tales of Brigadier Gerard, published in 1968. This does not appear to be a commonly available edition, and the only image I was able to find is of the front cover of the paperback (an I thus cannot verify if this cover was illustrated by Eileen M. Hill).
Unfortunately, the trail stops cold after 1971, with the last known publication as listed on WorldCat is Braunton Burrows national nature reserve : the Lighthouse Trail (though I suspect that this may be a second edition, and that the first was actually published in 1968). The WorldCat entries for Eileen M. Hill are incomplete, however (it doesn’t even list the Pet Turtles book!) so it is possible that other books illustrated by her will turn up later.
Ultimately, I’m left with more questions than answers. What happened to Eileen M. Hill? Did she marry and take a new name? Did she stop illustrating? Did she pass away? And how involved was she in biological conservation? If I uncover any more information I will certainly share it here. In the meantime, let us enjoy the detailed illustrations of an under-appreciated, mid-century artist and Zoological Fellow whose work appears on Marilyn Monroe’s bookshelf.