Women in Many Biological Fields
Over the years, many women have worked in the biological sciences. Sometimes they assisted their husbands, helping with everything from field work to writing. Much of the time, they received little recognition for their work; perhaps a conjugal thank you in a published manuscript but often not even co-authorship on a work to which the woman may have contributed equally as her spouse. Happily that is changing. This page looks at just a few of them.
Sylvia Earle is one of the best-known marine biologists today. Her accomplishments are many and she has over 150 publications to her credit. In addition to many honors both in the U.S. and internationally, she was the first women chief scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Time Magazine's first Hero for the Planet in 1998; and she had been a National Geographic explorer in Residence since 1998. She is sometimes called "Her Deepness" or "the Sturgeon General."
Ruth Turner (1914-2000) was a Harvard professor, author, curator and diver who over the course of her career became the world's expert on shipworms. Sometimes affectionately called "Lady Wormwood" because of her work on shipworms, she published more than 100 scientific papers. Her 1966 book A survey and illustrated catalogue of the Teredinidae (Mollusca: BivaIvia)was widely acclaimed as the most important book about shipworms. She was also a mentor to many upcoming marine biologists. Find out more about her here.
Photo copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Botany was one field that was relatively accessible to women, and they could pursue it even without formal education. Beloved children's author Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) (pictured) was a well-respected mycologist, noted for her studies and watercolors. She was also very interested in land preservation.
Alice Eastwood (1859-1953) was a Canadian-American whose interest in botany started during years she spent as a child in a convent. She moved to Denver CO and made collecting trips in the Rockies; known also for her hardiness, she was asked to guide Alfred Russel Wallace up Gray's Peak when he was visiting. She became so well known in the botany community that she was asked to organize an herbarium at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS). After destruction of the building during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, she went to Harvard's Gray Herbarium for two years, then returned to help rebuild the CAS Herbarium, and between 1912 and 1949 she added 340,000 specimens to it.
Other well-known female botanists include Katherine Esau (1898-1997), who received the National Medal of Science for her work on plant anatomy; Agnes Arber (1879-1960), who was the first woman to receive the Gold Medal of the Linnaean Society of London for her contributions to botany; and Carrie Derick, the first female professor in a Canadian university; she founded McGill University's Genetics Department.