Female students in Horticulture at Oregon State University preparing a vegetable garden near Benton Hall (~late 1800's). Photo Credit http://oregonprogress.oregonstate.edu/summer-2007/100-years-crop-and-soil-science.
Many of the first women working in the government organization now known at Natural Resources Conservation Service (formally Soil Conservation Service and preceded by Soil Erosion Service) were clerks and secretaries. A clerk out of Montana, Marjory A. McTavish, describes driving in the USDA-SCS vehicles and stopping at a gas station. She asked the attendant to fill up the vehicle with gas. The man walked around the car and came back to the window asking "Does the government let women drive their cars?"
During the 1930-40's, one of the first women that held a scientific/technical role in the SCS was Lois Olson. She was head of the Erosion History section under the Climatic and Physiographic Division of SES, which researched various documents and maps to determine characteristics of the landscape. Dr. Arthur Hall and her lectures on soil erosion history laid the foundation for many of the ways we think about soil erosion to this day.
The first woman to receive her Ph.D. in soil science was Ester Parsons Perry from the University of Berkeley in 1939. Her dissertation was titled "Profile studies of the more extensive primary soils derived from granitic rocks in California.” For anyone who has studied soil in California knows there are quite a few derived from granite as the Sierra Nevada Mountains are a granitic batholith. She began working for the California Agricultural Experiment Station (UC Berkeley) directly after where she remained for the whole of her career. She made her way up the ranks to the position of soils "specialist," but despite her contributions to soils in California she was never awarded the position of associate professor or a tenure track position. Perry ran the lab where well known soil chemist Gary Sposito was a student. She was also the first woman to join the American Society of Agronomy (ASA).
Finally, we have the first woman to attend Soils 105, an infamous soil survey field course that began in the 1930's and is offered through UC Davis and UC Berkeley even to this day. In 1953, Eva Esterman, a UCB honors student, asked to take the class. She was given the option to graduate without taking the course, but declined. She attended the class chauffeured in a separate car and chaperoned by Dr. Earl Story's wife. Esterman was also given "comfort" breaks. The academic dean at the time, Dr. Frank Haridine, thought this was a complete disaster and stated that no woman would ever attend this class again. Obviously this was not the case as I know many women in my profession that have attended this class over the years. This is partly due to the aforementioned Ester Perry. She created Soils 105F, an all female version of the Soils 105 class that occurred from 1956 to 1959.
A photo from the 2007 Soils 105 class, attended by many female students. http://lawr.ucdavis.edu/classes/ssc105/images/Photos07/IMG_2021.jpg
These are just a few of the stories about women in soils that I came across. There will be more posts to come that discuss woman and soils. Stay tuned!