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The quiet workforce: the various roles of women in geological and natural history museums during the early to mid-1900s

Patrick N. Wyse Jackson
Patrick N. Wyse Jackson
Department of Geology, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland (e-mail:
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Mary E. Spencer Jones
Mary E. Spencer Jones
Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD, UK (e-mail:
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January 01, 2007


When examining the work of women in geology during the 18th and 19th centuries, one can broadly, and perhaps crudely, divide those women with geological interests into two broad groups: firstly, the geological wife, sister, or daughter, and the museum assistant; and secondly the museum user, the academic and the museum research scientist. It was not until the close of the 19th century that women began to have a role, albeit minor, in museum education. Women typically were employed in the major national or university museums as preparators, illustrators or assistants, and this trend continued until the 1930s. These women received little academic credit for their research as it was frequently incorporated into the publications of the men for whom they worked. Adelaide Quisenberry worked for Ray Bassler at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, while Edith Goodyear was employed as an assistant to Edmund Garwood at University College, London. Edith later published an important paper in 1924, co-authored with Garwood. From 1964, Veronica Burns, a women of a very modest character, spent 17 years at Trinity College, Dublin, where as curator she diligently amassed many important specimens (some of which were used by colleagues in publications) and published two papers in her own right. By the 1930s, women were being appointed to serious research positions in some museums – among the earliest such appointment was that of Helen Muir-Wood, a specialist in Upper Palaeozoic brachiopods to the staff of the British Museum (Natural History). Anna Birchall Hastings was also appointed by the same institution to work on Recent bryozoans, but upon her marriage was required to relinquish her post, even though she had married a museum palaeontologist; he remained in post while she became a volunteer.

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Figures & Tables


Geological Society, London, Special Publications

The Role of Women in the History of Geology

C. V. Burek
C. V. Burek
University of Chester, UK
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B. Higgs
B. Higgs
University College Cork, Ireland
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2007




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