On Saturday, January 20th, 2018, women and their allies gathered to march for gender equity, the #MeToo movement, the importance of voting (including the “Power to the Polls” initiative), and global awareness of the disparities that exist within the gender spectrum. The Women’s March took place around the world, with approximately 673 events recorded. The Los Angeles event drew a crowd of an estimated 500,000 people, making it the largest in the US.
CURes would like to take this moment to reflect on some of the amazing female scientists who have made ecology and urban resilience what it is today. Though this is just a sample, it is important to highlight women throughout history who have made significant contributions to ecological work and research as the struggle for equity continues. The CURes team is committed to intersectional diversity efforts across our research, outreach, educational programs, and initiatives, and we look forward to how these conversations will continue to develop.
Ynes Mexia (1870 – 1938)
- Ynes began her career as a botanist and plant collector at the age of 55.
- Over the course of the next 12 years, she would travel to Argentina, Chile, Mount McKinley, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, the Straits of Magellan, and southwestern Mexico, discovering a new genus (Mexianthus) and many new species across her 150,000 samples.
- Ynes believed that her life purpose was achieved by finding new plant species and contributing to the botany field.
Edith Clements (1874 – 1971)
- First woman to receive a Ph.D. by the University of Nebraska.
- Pioneer of botanical ecology and was particularly interested in understanding the ecology of vegetation in differing areas.
- Edith, along with her husband, also assembled approximately 530 species of the Colorado mountains and 615 species of cryptogams that were used by scientific institutions and botanical gardens.
- During the Dust Bowl, Edith also encouraged conservation measures to counter destructive farm and range land processes.
Margaret Nice (1883 – 1974)
- Received an M.A. in biology from Clark University in 1915. During this time, produced first comprehensive study on the diet of the northern bobwhite.
- From 1913-1927, studied the birds of Oklahoma.
- Performed long-term study on song sparrows, making her a leading ornithologist in the world for her records of their behavior.
Janaki Ammal (1887 – 1984)
- First woman to get a Ph.D. in botany in the US in 1931 and is one of the few women to receive a D.Sc. from her alma mater (the University of Michigan).
- Originally from India, Janaki returned home to study the chromosomal relationships of plant species. Her work with sugarcane and other related grasses was foundational to modern understanding of plant genetics.
- Janaki was also interested in ecology and biodiversity, and explored sustainable agricultural methods in Wayanad.
- She also was an environmentalist and spoke out against a hydro-powered dam across the Kunthipuzha river.
- She was the only woman invited to the international conference on environmental history, “Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth” in 1955.
Roger Arliner Young (1889 – 1964)
- Renowned scientist in biology, zoology, and marine biology.
- While working to receiver her master’s degree at the University of Chicago, Roger became the first African American women to publish an article in Science in 1924 titled “On the excretory apparatus in Paramecium.”
- First woman to receive a doctorate in zoology when she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940.
- Roger’s work on the effects of direct and indirect radiation on sea urchin eggs, the structures that control the salt concentration in paramecium, and the hydration and dehydration of living cells has had lasting impacts on ecological work.
Emma Lucy Braun (1889 – 1971)
- Avid botanist, geologist, and biologist who was first inspired by the natural world at her childhood home in Ohio.
- Earned a Ph.D. in botany from the University of Cincinnati.
- Conducted extensive research on the East Coast studying vascular plant floristics and deciduous forests. Four taxa of vascular plants are named in her honor.
- Emma also founded the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society.
Minna Jewell (1892 – 1985)
- Conducted some of the first work done on prairie streams, groundwater, and acidic aquatic systems.
- Studied freshwater sponges and proposed a new classification system.
Barbara McClintock (1902 – 1992)
- Studied maize cytogenetics, primarily focusing on chromosomes and how they change during reproduction. Developed the technique for visualizing maize chromosomes.
- Demonstrated genetic recombination by crossing-over during meiosis, as well as the role of the telomere and centromere.
- Discovered transposition and demonstrated that this can be used to turn genes on and off.
- In 1983, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Barbara is the only woman to have an unshared Prize in this category.
Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)
- While she began her career in aquatic biology, Carson is best known for her environmental work on the impact of pesticides and her book Silent Spring, which led to the banning of DDT and other pesticides. Her work was a catalyst for the deep ecology movement, ecofeminism, and the encouragement of feminist scientists.
- The Environmental Defense Fund, formed in 1967, and the EPSA, formed in 1970, both directly responded to DDT concerns.
- Carson also researched climate change, rising sea-levels, melting Arctic glaciers, collapsing bird and animal populations, and crumbling geological faults.
Ruth Patrick (1907 – 2013)
- In 1937, became the curator of the Academy of Natural Science’s Leidy Microscopial Collection, where she increased the institution’s research in diatoms (a group of microscopic algae).
- Studied how the presence of different microscopic algae species indicated the degree of pollution in streams. Conducted a biological survey in 1948 to determine how biological indicators and various species could be used to measure pollution.
- Known as a pioneer in multidisciplinary research.
Elsie Quarterman (1910 – 2014)
- Best known for her work on the ecology of the Tennessee cedar glades, which contain many endemic species.
- Rediscovered the Tennessee coneflower and worked on its conservation, leading to its removal from the endangered species list in 2011.
Kamala Sohonie (1912 – 1998)
- First Indian woman to be accepted to the Indian Institute of Science, where she received a M.Sc. in biochemistry.
- Focused her studies on proteins in milk, pulses, and legumes, an important area of study for India.
- First woman to get a Ph.D. in the sciences in Britain from Cambridge University, where she studied cytochrome C in the respiration of plant tissue.
- She went on to work and study the role of vitamins in nutrition and how poor communities could meet their nutritional needs.
Mamie Phipps Clark (1917 – Present)
- First African-American woman to obtain her doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University.
- Developed the famous doll experiments that exposed internalized racism and the negative effects of segregation for African-American children.
- Along with her husband, Mamie opened the Northside Center for Child Development in 1946 to provide psychological and casework services to families in the Harlem area.
- In 1962, the couple also created the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited Project to provide employment and education to Harlem youth.
Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)
- Chemist and X-ray crystallographer who contributed to the understanding of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite.
- Rosalind’s X-ray diffraction images of DNA led to the discovery of the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and Wilkins. She most likely would have shared the Noble Prize awarded to the team, but died before it was given in 1962.
Judith Myers (1924 – Present)
- Studied plant-animal-microbe interactions, including insect pest outbreaks viral pathogens of insects, and biological controls of insects and plants.
- Judith is an advocate for the advancement of women in STEM and has served on various committees within the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada to promote equality.
Jean Langenheim (1925 – Present)
- First female faculty member at UC Santa Cruz in the natural sciences and the first woman to be promoted to full professor.
- Studied the ecology of plant resins and their role in plant defense. Jean conducted her research across five continents and is known for crossing boundaries between botany, geology, and chemistry.
Jane Goodall (1934 – Present)
- In 1960, with no formal scientific training, traveled to Gombe, Tanzania, to study chimpanzees under Louis Leakey.
- Became the eighth person to study for a Ph.D. at Cambridge University without a B.A. degree. Completed her thesis in 1965.
- In her 55-plus years studying chimpanzees, Jane challenged scientific ideas regarding the long-held belief that only humans could use tools, and that chimpanzees are vegetarian.
- In 1977, founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which supports research in Gombe. Its youth program, Roots & Shoots, began in 1991.
- Active advocate for sustainable farming, biodiversity conservation, and limiting animal testing.
Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011)
- First woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree (Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi). Also, first woman in the region to become the chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and the first associate professor in 1976.
- In 1977, founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on planting trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. Wangari emphasized the importance of community involvement and mobilization.
- In 1992, worked to create the Middle Ground Group in an effort to create a fair election during the first multi-party election in Kenya.
- In 2003, Wangari was appointed the Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya.
- In 2004, became the first African American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace. Wangari was also the first environmentalist to win the prize.
- Worked to protect the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem, limit desertification, and mitigate ecological losses.
- In 2006, spearheaded the United Nations Billion Trees campaign.
- One of the co-founders of the Novel Women’s Initiative to strengthen women’s rights around the world.
Maharani Chakravorty (1947 – 2015)
- Born in Kolkata, Maharani received her B.Sc. from Presidency College, her M.Sc. from the University of Calcutta, and her Ph.D. from Bose Institute.
- Completed dissertation on microbial protein synthesis and had specialized training in bacterial genetics and virology.
- Organized the first laboratory course on recombinant DNA techniques in Asia and the Far East in 1981.
- Her work also had profound impacts on host-virus interactions and genetic engineering.