Uncovering history: fossils and fearless females
contributed by Emily Pascoe email: emilylpascoe [at] gmail [dot] com, twitter: @pascoeel
Animals, Biodiversity, Climate change, Ecology, Environmental change, Evolution, Evolutionary processes, Field, Fossils, Fundamental research, Global patterns, Historical figure, Lesbian, LGBTQIA+, North America, Observational, Phylogenies, Speciation, Species richness, Woman
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Stein, Barbara R. 2001. On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. ISBN: 9780520227262
Annie and Louise were both paleontologists and zoologists in the early part of the 20th Century. Together, they helped to found the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Biography in brief
Annie Montague Alexander was born December 29, 1867 on Hawaii, and first started to become interested in paleontology when she attended lectures on the subject by Professor John C. Merriam, at the University of California, Berkeley. She joined him on many expeditions, but in 1908 decided she would like a female travelling companion. She invited Louise Kellogg, and so began a long career and relationship that was shared by the two individuals. They went on many trips to collect specimens and data (including Alaska and Mexico), and in their free-time tended a ranch. Their specimens and financial aid were crucial in founding the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology on the Berkeley campus. Annie died in 1950, but Louise continued contributing to the museum until her death in 1967.
Axes of identity & underrepresentation
Aside from being a female (a gender minority) and conducting science in the early 1900s (if you think sexism is bad now, imagine how much worse it was back then!), both Annie and Louise were a couple living in what was regarded as a “Boston marriage” – a devoted relationship between two women.
Take home message of study
In addition to collecting more than 20,000 specimens of birds and small mammals that were used to study species in more detail, Annie was involved in an expedition during which some of the finest specimens of ichthyosaur (giant marine mammals from over 100 million years ago!) were discovered. Some of the data that they collected on small mammals continues to contribute to a long-term data-set to this day!
A fossil of an ichthyosaur (available Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ichthyosaurus_sp_2.jpg)
Key Research Points
You can find out more details about the work and personal lives of Annie M. Alexander and Louise Kellogg in the book “On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West” by B. Stein
Specimens, particularly of extinct species, allow us to learn more about that species. Once we know more about them, we can understand their role in an ecosystem (e.g., food for other animals), how we might be able to stop them from going extinct, how the species that are present today evolved from species in the past that are now extinct, and a lot of other information. Data that these two individuals collected nearly 100 years ago also helps us today! They collected data on the location of pika – a small mammal which is an ‘indicator species’. Data on how location of pikas changes over time can help us to understand climate change.