Geological Society of London
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Invincible but mostly invisible: Australian women's contribution to geology and palaeontology

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-06-21, 12:05 authored by S. Turner

Women have played a significant role in Australian geoscience, and especially in palaeontology. ‘Australian’ women gained degrees by the early 20th century and began to contribute intensively. Australian-born young women already immured to the rigours of climate and culture, collected and illustrated fossils, enrolled in the first university courses, thrived in the field, in some instances outnumbering and out-achieving men. Where women palaeontologists made their mark they often energetically concentrated on a taxonomic group, making them their own, as Isabel Cookson did with palynology, Joan Crockford with bryozoans, Irene Crespin especially with foraminifans, Dorothy Hill with corals, Ida Brown with brachiopods, Nell Ludbrook with molluscs, Elizabeth Ripper with stromatoporoids, Kathleen Sherrard with graptolites, and Mary Wade, initially with foraminiferans and then the Ediacaran fauna. Brown, Crespin, Hill, Ludbrook, Wade and their contemporaries did alpha taxonomy, classical geology and biostratigraphical studies that laid the foundations for making maps and work that became recognized nationally and internationally. Some achieved greatness; some – Hill, Cookson, Ludbrook and Phillips Ross – by leaving the country, either to gain their higher degree or to work. Many – for example, Hosking, Johnston, Prendergast, Richards, Ripper, Sullivan and Vincent – are or have been mere shadowy figures with a few publications and then oblivion or even tragedy. Women in geosciences spanning the 20th century in Australia contributed some hundreds of scientific papers, maps and textbooks.