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When the subject of geology is raised it is only recently that women usually get some mention (although there were more in the past than is generally thought.) It took the efforts of a very unusual person to break the ground for other women. Florence Bascom's work resulted in our knowledge of Appalachian geology being to a large extent defined by a women, who was also a top-notch scientist and recognized as such even fairly early in her career. She was in fact the first professional female geologist in the United States.  Although not the first woman to obtain a Ph.D. in geology (Mary Holms did that at the University of Michigan in 1888), she was the first to be hired as a geologist by the United States Geological Survey and, not only the first, but the sole woman listed in the premier issue of  "American Men of Science" in 1906.

Florence Bascom was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts in 1862, during the Civil War. Her mother was active in the women's voting rights movement and her father, who was a professor of rhetoric, supported equal opportunities for women.  She was awarded a Ph.D. by Johns Hopkins University in 1893, after having earned two bachelor's degrees at the University of Wisconsin in 1882 and 1884. She was able to go to the University of Wisconsin because when her father became president in 1874, one of the first of his actions (1875) was to admit women to classes. She also was awarded a master's degree from the same institution before going on to Johns Hopkins.  Bascom went on to establish herself as one of the formost geologists and experts in crystallography in the country. Her life was a series of being the first woman in a number of other geological areas. In 1901, she became the first woman speak at a meeting of the Geological Society of Washington. In 1924 she was elected as the first woman on the Council of the Geological Society of America and became the society's first woman officer. She published more than 40 articles and became recognized as an expert especially in the geology of the Appalachian Mountains.

Not only a researcher, she taught at several colleges and universities, including one for blacks and Native Americans, finally being appointed to teach geology, then considered to be a secondary subject, at Bryn Mawr in 1895. She founded the geology department there and made geology into a respected discipline at the college. The graduate program that she developed trained the majority of women geologists in the first third of the Twentieth Century. She also built up the geological collection.  Bascom was a demanding, but highly respected teacher and was a pioneer in both research and instruction. She deserves much more than being virtually unknown except to those in the field.

Internet References

Florence Bascom, Pioneer Geologist

Florence Bascom

Rock Stars: A Life of Firsts: Florence Bascom

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Thu Nov 29, 2012 at 07:39 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, Backyard Science, and History for Kossacks.

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