International Women’s Day
To celebrate International Women’s day we have highlighted the work of 5 inspirational female geologists who have made an indelible mark in what has historically been a male dominated profession.
Martine Bertereau (c. 1600,–c. 1642)
Martine Bertereau was the first recorded female mineralogist and female French mining engineer. She travelled extensively in Europe in searching for mineral deposits. She surveyed the sites of hundreds of potential mines in France in service for the King.
This activity aroused suspicions in the church that their methods involved magic and a priest searched her and her husband’s châteaux looking for evidence to charge them with witchcraft. Martine, her husband and her eldest daughter were all imprisoned on suspicion of witchcraft in 1642. Martine and her daughter died in prison.
“… what is said by others about a woman who undertakes to dig holes in and pierce mountains: this is too bold, and surpasses the forces and industry of this sex… I would refer this disbeliever… to profane histories, where… there have been women who were not only bellicose and skilled in arms, but even more, expert in arts and speculative sciences…”– Martine Bertereau
Mary Anning (1799–1847)
Mary Anning was a self-taught palaeontologist and avid fossil hunter. Her discoveries were of such significance that they were regularly referenced in scientific papers. Her most significant discoveries included an ichthyosaur, a plesiosaurus a pterodactylus and important fish fossils.
Tourists came to Lyme to not only buy fossils but to see her and her discoveries meant she became well known in geological circles in Europe and America. She was consulted on issues of anatomy and fossils collecting. As a woman, she was not eligible to join the Geological Society of London and did not always receive full credit for her scientific contributions.
It has been claimed that Mary’s story was the inspiration for the 1908 tongue-twister “She sells seashells on the seashore” by Terry Sullivan. In 2010 – 163 years after her death – the Royal Society included Mary Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.
“The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved…It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.” — Lady Harriet Silvester on Mary Anning
“The extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong… she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.” — Lady Harriet Silvester on Mary Anning
Dr Florence Bascom (1867-1945)
Dr Florence Bascom is recognised as a true pioneer for female geologists and is often considered to be the first female geologist in America. She was only the second woman to earn a PhD in geology in America, and the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. Famously, she was required to sit behind a screen to avoid distracting the male students during her PhD study.
She was first woman hired by the United States Geological Survey in 1896 and the first woman to be elected to the council of the Geological Society of America in 1924. In 1906 – in the first edition of American Men of Science she was voted one of the top 100 leading geologists in the country. She was an expert in mineralogy, petrography and crystallography. To this day, her work studying the crystalline rocks of eastern Appalachian Piedmont Range remains important.
“When any woman manifests an interest in the science of geology I am always glad to tell her of its possibilities and she makes her own choice. Not only must a girl have the mental aptitude for scientific research, but also physical strength and great physical courage. Then too she must be strong in the conviction that it is the work she really wants to do” — Dr Florence Bascom
Marie Stopes (1880-1958)
Marie Stopes was a British author, palaeobotanist and campaigner for women’s rights. She studied in London and Munich and made significant contributions to plant palaeontology and coal classification. She became the first female academic on the faculty of science at the University of Manchester. During her time, Marie Stopes was both controversial and influential and she brought the subject of birth control into the public domain. She was the co-founder of the first family planning clinic in Britain.
“You can take no credit for beauty at sixteen. But if you are beautiful at sixty, it will be your soul’s own doing.” — Marie Stopes
Dr Marie Cowan
Dr Marie Cowan is the current director of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) and became the first female director of GSNI in 2014. GSNI is an office of the Department for the Economy and generates which provides information, data, research and expertise on mineral resources and advises on associated planning considerations to support the economy and protect the environment.
Before becoming GSNI Director, Marie co-project-managed the award-winning £6m Tellus and £4.5m Tellus Border soil geochemistry and geophysical mapping projects in Northern Ireland and Ireland. She is a member of the Institute of Directors and a professional geologist with the Institute of Geologists of Ireland.
Marie has been described as ‘one of the most influential geoscientists on the island of Ireland’, is a member of the North-east Atlantic Group of Geological Survey Directors, the Royal Irish Academy’s Geosciences and Geographical Sciences Committee and its Brexit taskforce, the NI Assembly All Party Group for Science and Technology and the NI Learned Societies and Professional Bodies Forum. She is a Governance Board member for the Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences, past Chairperson of Earth Science Ireland and past elected non-executive board member of the Institute of Geologists of Ireland. She is also currently Chair of a Social Enterprise in her local community.
“Geodiversity, or the variety of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms and soils, is something that we all depend upon… The geodiversity of Northern Ireland has shaped our landscape, influences where we live, what we eat, and how we travel and also underpins economic development. It is therefore imperative that we understand the importance of geodiversity and put a mechanism in place to ensure that it is valued, available and protected/cherished for future generations.” — Dr Marie Cowan