Paper No. 98-7
Presentation Time: 9:50 AM
KATHERINE VAN WINKLE PALMER (1895-1982): THE LADY AND HER FOSSILS
At a time when there were very few women in the field of geology, that was her chosen career as she entered the University of Washington during the First World War. Choosing the more difficult path was certainly in her blood, for she was a direct descendent of Jacob Walingen Van Winkle who settled in New Amsterdam (later New York) in the 1630s. Born and raised in Oakville in western Washington, she was the daughter of the local physician, Jacob O. Van Winkle and Edith Van Winkle. As a child Katherine was always happier out-of-doors, a love she carried with her to the University of Washington where she studied with Charles E. Weaver, an expert on Tertiary fauna. She graduated in 1918 with a thesis on the Oligocene fossils of the Chehalis Valley in Washington State. This got her to Cornell University where she studied with Gilbert D. Harris, also a renowned Tertiary expert; graduating with her Ph.D. in 1925. Her career was off to a great start. Also at Cornell she met and married Ephraim L. Palmer, a Professor of Rural Education and Nature Study at Cornell. During her career she published more than 50 papers, articles and books. In 1952, upon the death of G. D. Harris, she became the Director of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) in Ithaca, New York, which he founded in 1932. PRI published two major paleontology journals which Harris founded, Bulletins of American Paleontology (1895) and Palæontographica Americana (1916), both of which she continued editing and overseeing the printing and distribution; not to mention other books and pamphlets published by PRI. She held this position until her quasi-retirement in 1970 during which time the collections at PRI grew, and she saw the Institution move from the original concrete block building which Harris literally built in his back yard to a larger place on West Hill, now known as Palmer Hall. In 1973, she became the first women to receive the highest honor in American paleontology, the Paleontological Society Medal. She continued to work with fossils and published well into the late 1970s. In the year of her death she published the first history of PRI. So Katherine Van Winkle Palmer, the only girl in her high school graduating class to go to college, made significant contributions to the world of paleontology.