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Mar 11 2013

Crowdsourcing Pioneering Women in the Geosciences

Did you know it was a woman who discovered that the earth has a solid inner core? Or that Bascom Crater on Venus was named for the first woman geologist hired by the USGS? Were you aware that two 19th century women wrote and illustrated the standard reference work on British graptolites? Or that a woman was one of the discoverers of the mid-ocean ridge?

Yeah. Women have made some pretty amazing contributions to the geosciences. And they’ve been doing outstanding geology for centuries. Thing is, we don’t know them the way we should. If I asked you to name the most influential early geologists, you’d probably give me names like Steno and Hutton and Lyell. But women have been making important advances since the early days, and without them, the men wouldn’t have gotten so far (just ask Lyell, whose wife, Mary, accompanied him in the field and was instrumental to his success). Those names roll off your tongue without more than an instant’s pause. I’d like to see the names of great women in geology springing to mind as easily.

I’ve got a small list to begin with, but I’m sure there are gaps. Perhaps you can help fill them. I’m looking for early days to begin with, anyone up until the mid-20th century, although if you know pioneers in the geosciences whose discoveries are more recent, feel free to share them.

What am I doing with my little list, you ask? I’m starting a series, of course! I’m already knee-deep in research and have a few biographies ready to go. I’m discovering brilliant, super-smart, and determined women whose curiosity about how the earth works was insatiable. They faced down all sorts of challenges. They left behind a body of work that increased our knowledge and understanding of our world, and trained up others who continued the advance long after they were gone. They’ve left us many legacies. I can’t wait to discover even more, and share them with you.

Let’s make my little list a very long one indeed.

Portrait of Mary Anning by Henry De la Beche. British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist who became known around the world for a number of important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia.

 

11 comments

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  1. 1
    fernanda castaño

    Can’t wait to read it. ;)

  2. 2
    rq

    Unfortunately I cannot help you out with this one, but I await this series with great impatience! :) *randomhugs*

  3. 3
    heliconia

    aaaaaand Mary Anning is the only one I know of.

  4. 4
    balaeniceps

    Tanya Atwater if you don’t have her already.

  5. 5
    katybe

    And with the mention of Mary Anning, I remembered reading Tracy Chevalier’s book about her and another woman. So I’ve just looked up the details and it turns out she was a real person! Elizabeth Philpot. Who I’ve never come across outside of Remarkable Creatures but would love to learn more about.

  6. 6
    burtclothier

    I found Maria Matilda Ogilvie Gordon in researching the same topic:

    http://blog.robinson-noble.com/science-2/03-08-2013/womens-history-month/

    BGC

  7. 7
    permanentwiltingpoint

    The name jumping immediately to my mind was Marie Tharp – but I see you’ve got her already. With some effort though I managed to draw a name from my memory that was mentioned in one of my lessons: Eleanor Knopf, born Bliss, who studied under Florence Bascom. I know she worked on structural geology on the eastern overthrusting zone of the Rocky Mountains, somewhere in the 20s or a little bit earlier, when it was still basically wild west, and I’d presume especially so for a woman. Afraid I don’t know much more about her work or life.

    There is a short biography about her in The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Sciences by Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey eds., which also contains a listing of female scientists by profession.

    So, if you shouldn’t happen to have known about her already … plus, she ought to provide a little bit more of a challenge for your research than Tharp or Bascom.
    I’m looking forward to your series. Greetings from Kiel University.

  8. 8
    tansy

    Marie Stopes is better known for her support for birth control, but she also made some contributions to paleontology, including asking Robert Falcon Scott to look for Glossopteris fossils in Antarctica. Wikipedia has some info.
    Joan Wiffen may be a bit too recent or too local, but she’s well-known among New Zealand geoscientists for discovering NZ’s first dinosaur fossils in the 1970s.
    Hope that helps!

  9. 9
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    No, I had no idea! WTF is a graptolite?

  10. 10
    Dana Hunter

    Excellent work, my darlings! Many women I’d never heard of and now desperately want to research. If you have more, keep ‘em coming.

  11. 11
    Karen Locke

    Someone already mentioned Tanya Atwater, but I have to note that she’s a well-respected geoscience teacher and teaching tool maker as well as a geoscientist. A woman of many talents.

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