I think I may be a bad person for loving this so much. But I have my reasons!
I’ve never given birth, but I’ve experienced pain verging on it. When your menstrual cramps are worse than kidney stones, and your doctor tells you that women who’ve had both babies and kidney stones said the stone were worse than labor, you can be relatively assured you’ve survived something approximating the most painful experience uterus-bearing people typically face. I’m willing to bet that there’s worse things, like maybe being on fire, but childbirth is generally considered to be pretty awful. Yet our culture tells women it’s beautiful, and wonderful, and they shouldn’t ask for pain relief because that will somehow cheapen the experience or something.
That is one of the coolest doodles ever. Absolutely fitting for one of the coolest women ever. Have you read up on her? If not, you totally should. She was amazeballs!
Only a year later, an earthquake in New Zealand would lead her to her greatest discovery.
The behavior of certain seismic waves, called P’ (P-Prime) waves, didn’t match what would be expected “if the earth simply consisted of a hard mantle surrounding a fluid or soft core.” Inge considered different models, and discovered an interesting result. “The existence of a small solid core in the innermost part of the earth was seen to result in waves emerging at distances where it had not been possible to predict their presence.”
I cringed when I read about Patricia Arquette’s oblivious comments at the Oscars. It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been an immediate, “Whoops! I’m so sorry, I definitely should’ve phrased that differently and not implied everybody else’s struggles are totally over.” It’s too easy, when you’re a white feminist, to get wrapped up in your own problems and forget that other people are dealing with far more shit than you are. It’s far too easy to assume the black feminist in the room faces the same issues you do. And then you end up blabbing something that comes across as dismissive, erasing the existence and concerns of huge swathes of people and then wondering why they’re mad at you.
One of the best karst geologists in the world was technically a geographer. That’s the thing with physical geography: women were allowed to do it, and some of them made it just as geological as they liked. Dr. Marjorie Sweeting (1920-1994) certainly loved doing geology. Let’s call her what she was: geographer, geomorphologist, and distinguished Cambridge Fellow. The quality of her life’s work, plus my affection for alliteration, leads me to crown her the queen of karst.
I’ve fallen a bit in love with all of the women in geology I’ve researched and written about so far, but Marjorie was the first who got me copiously salivating. You see, I’m a bit of a karst addict. I especially love the karst landscapes of China. So finding out that this remarkable woman led the first set of British geomorphologists to China, and was the first western geologist to study those astounding landscapes, sent me into an agony of ecstasy. And I discovered a woman every bit as remarkable as the landforms she studied. Continue reading “Marjorie Sweeting: “The Basis for a World Model of Karst””→
You never hear of the other Lyell. Sir Charles, you know quite well: he set the infant science of geology firmly on its feet and inspired Charles Darwin. But there’s another Lyell who was a geologist, and without her, Charles Lyell would have found his work far more difficult, if not impossible. When he married Mary Horner, he pledged himself to a lifelong scientific partner.
Why don’t we know her?
Charles provided some insight when speaking of mathematician Mary Somerville. If she’d married a fellow mathematician, he mused, “we should never have heard of her work. She would have merged it in her husband’s, and passed it off as his.” It’s possible he had his own Mary in mind when he said that.
Mary Horner Lyell (1808-1873) was surrounded by geology from the beginning of her life. Her father, Professor Leonard Horner, taught geology in England and Germany, and became a member of the Geological Society. He hired tutors for his sons and daughters, ensuring all of his children had an excellent education. That education allowed Mary to become a conchologist and her younger sister, Katherine, to pursue a career as a botanist. Both of them were well-respected and accomplished in their fields. Both of them also married a Lyell: Katherine married Charles’s younger brother, Henry.
Marrying Charles didn’t confine Mary to the domestic life of a housewife: far from it. She traveled the world with her husband as his partner in geology. She did the packing: their clothes, his geologic equipment and specimens. While Charles investigated, she sketched and painted the outcrops, geologic structures, and cross-sections they discovered. When circumstances prevented her from going out into the field with him, Charles didn’t neglect her. He created detailed journals of his investigations for her, and wrote affectionate letters beginning, “My dearest Mary…”
Mary wasn’t just an asset in the field. She helped him with research and cataloged the rocks, minerals and fossils they collected. She acted as his scribe and interpreter: her fluency in French and German allowed her to translate letters from European geologists, and she learned Spanish and Swedish as well. Charles’s eyesight became less up to the task of correspondence, she ensured he stayed current and connected.
When Darwin and Mr. Lyell discussed evolution, Mary was an active part of the conversation. When Darwin needed barnacles, she supplied them (“I am much obliged for the Barnacles,” he wrote to her, and then launched into a discussion of the glacial geology of the Scottish glens. In a letter a few years previously, he had described Mary as “a monument of patience” for putting up with his and Sir Charles’s “unsophisticated geology” talk – it seems that by the time she began slipping him barnacles, he’d figured out she actually enjoyed this geology stuff).
Mary also carried on a lively correspondence with another geological wife: she and Elizabeth Agassiz discussed the glacial geology of South America in their letters back and forth.
Her husband was fully supportive of women who wanted to participate in science. He insisted that women be allowed to attend his lectures. Mary didn’t limit herself to just his talks: she attended special lectures at the London Geological Society with keen interest.
Though her contemporaries and later historians too often overlooked her, it was clear she understood geology thoroughly. And she was certainly a scientist in her own right. In 1854, she collected and studied land snails in the Canary Islands, her own version of Darwin’s finches. In another age, her work may not have been so merged with and overshadowed by her husband’s. She was a geologist to the core. If Charles Lyell was one of geology’s fathers, Mary Horner Lyell was certainly one of its mothers, an extraordinary and dedicated woman we need to remember.
Zonia Baber (1862-1955) is one of those people you aspire to be and fear you will never manage to become even half as good as.
And I only chose her as our first Pioneering Woman in Geology because of her name. I had this list of women I knew next to nothing about, and I hovered a finger over it, and said, “There. That’s an interesting name. Let’s start with her.” Then I found out she was a geographer, and thought, “Oh, dear.” A teacher, when I wanted women who worked in the field. Oh, no. An American when I’d hoped to start with a different country. Oh, bugger. But Mary Arizona “Zonia” Baber? Still couldn’t resist the name. So I read past the first sentence in the Wikipedia article, and promptly fell in love. Co-founded the Geographic Society of Chicago, which was modeled after the National Geographic society? Awesome! Involved in social issues? Brilliant! Feminist, even so! And then I found out that, in addition to the whole geography teacher thing, she’d got her start in geology. Continue reading “Zonia Baber: “The Public May Be Brought to Understand the Importance of Geography””→
When asked for early geologists, all of us can rattle off names. Some of us may remember Nicolas Steno, the father of stratigraphy. We certainly mention James Hutton (father of deep time) and Charles Lyell (father of modern geology). Some of us would even throw Charles Darwin’s name in there for his work on volcanic islands and coral reefs.
Geology has many fathers, and we know them well. But few of us can name its mothers. Mothers who sacrificed far more than most of the men did – many women could only succeed in the geosciences if they remained unmarried and childless (and some organizations, like the British Geological Survey, made that a formal requirement). They fought discrimination and doubt. They worked hard for a fraction of the recognition their male colleagues got. Despite all the decks stacked against them, they made important contributions to our knowledge of the world. Forgetting the women who left us geoscience legacies is intolerable. We need to remember. Continue reading “Pioneering Women in the Geosciences: Introduction”→