GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 307-2
Presentation Time: 1:50 PM


RODRIGUEZ, Maria and ESTES-SMARGIASSI, Kathryn, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007,

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Invertebrate Paleontology (LACMIP) collection has had remarkable contributions from women paleontologists since the museum’s founding. During the earliest years, the number of women working in paleontology was disproportionately low; however, these pioneers led the way for many women in the field later on.

During the late 19thcentury, women were excluded from the professional field of paleontology; amateur collecting was the only way in. One of the early women was Martha Williamson, who from the late 1800s collected, researched, and published on fossil and modern mollusks of California. Given her gender, she never attained a position above a secretarial post at the first national organization devoted to mollusks. Despite this, she made significant taxonomic contributions by collecting from many now-destroyed localities in the Los Angeles area.

By the 1950s, opportunities for women in the geosciences were available only to those willing to fight for them, and with the support of a male advisor. LouElla Saul was encouraged by paleontologist Willis Popenoe to get an M.A. in geology, which she received in 1959. She later became Collections Manager of Invertebrate Paleontology at UCLA, then later at LACMIP, where she remains a research associate today. Her scholarly record is impressive, including more than 100 publications, and extensive collections from the Cretaceous of California.

By the mid-1960s, universities began reconsidering policies regarding geology and gender. In 1964, Judy Terry Smith was in the first Stanford class to allow women to attend field camp, with Myra Keen as her female advisor. Even with these advantages, Smith recalls women having to use backdoors to gain access to careers in paleontology, and discouragement during job interviews. Smith is now a research associate with the LACMIP, and her collections are critical to understanding the evolution of the Gulf of California.

These women paved the way for current and future generations of women paleontologists. LACMIP’s strong history of representing women has allowed for a system of mentorship and continuously growing ranks of female paleontologists. The overall percentage of professional women in paleontology today is close to 20%, however this figure nears 90% among staff and interns at LACMIP.