Women in Science and Technology

I’m killing a couple birds with this post. Zuska is hosting this month’s Diversity in Science carnival, on the topic of “Women Achievers in STEM – Past and Present,” and bloggers everywhere have also been called-upon to observe Ada Lovelace Day by pledging to post on the topic of an amazing woman in “technology,” broadly speaking.

I feel like these topics are different and new, but still so closely related to the recent Scientiae carnival about woman role models in STEM fields (as well as the Smithsonian slideshow I posted about below) that at first I was having trouble coming up with someone new and exciting to talk about. Hence the stalling until the post deadline. I have already talked about a woman role model in science who was extremely important in my career, albeit anonymously. A lot of amazing women were also recently discussed at length in the last Scientiae (for example: I have considered Vera Rubin to be an incredibly inspiring woman and role model since I met her many years ago, but I don’t have much to add to the recent post about her). But! Then I was inspired. No one has done more than briefly mention Florence Bascom in these recent discussions of women in science and technology!

In 1893, Florence Bascom was the first woman to to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins (where she had to sit behind a screen so the male students would not know she was there, I shit you not), and at that time, the only woman to hold a PhD in geoscience in the United States. After earning her degree, she founded the Geology Department at Bryn Mawr College, a small, prestigious women’s college in Eastern Pennsylvania. Bascom developed both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum herself, and she continued to teach there as a professor until she retired in 1928. The Bryn Mawr department was considered to be the “locus of training for the most accomplished female geologists of the early 20th century” (GSA Today, July 1997) and is where almost all professional woman geologists were trained in the first third of that century. While working at Bryn Mawr, she became the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1896 (she worked with the USGS seasonally, working on a huge number of the Survey’s 15-minute geologic quadrangle maps). To this day, we use maps based to a great extent on her original mapping work in Eastern PA and New Jersey. Bascom continued her work with USGS until forced to fully retire due to poor health in 1936. She was the first woman elected to serve on the council for the Geological Society of America, and later became the first woman officer for that organization when she was elected as its vice president. Florence was an extremely well-regarded and important contributor to the fields of mineralogy and petrology.

4 Responses

  1. The last sentence from the USGS page sums up why women need women:
    “At least three of her students later joined the USGS: Eleanora Bliss Knopf, Anna Jonas Stose, and Julia Gardner.”

    behind a screen….. unreal. I read a story about a women scientist years ago with a similar WTF. She had to pretend that she was the profs secretary, and she would hand out her notes to the class and take tests separately so no one would know. At first I thought “what kind of scumbag would treat a woman like this?” and as I kept reading, it turned out that the prof guy bent and broke every rule for that woman to get her degree. It sounds like Florence had a similar good guy in her corner, thank gawd.

  2. Yeah, from what I read while researching this post, she was the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins, but actually the second to earn one – the first woman was never granted her degree. I’m sure they put her behind the screen for her protection.

  3. She had to sit behind a screen? Whuh?

    I am opening and shutting my mouth like an escaped goldfish, rendered speechless by some emotion which I cannot currently identify by name.

    At least these days, when they pretend we’re not here it’s usually in the metaphorical sense.

  4. Thanks, Volcanista, for this. Bascom was amazing.

    I knew that she was the first, but I had no idea about the BS she put up with at Johns Hopkins.

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