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Alice Evelyn Wilson – one of the first women geologists and palaeontologists

Posted in Geography, Geology, Historical articles, Science on Thursday, 30 May 2013

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This edited article about Alice Evelyn Wilson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 274 published on 15 April 1967.

University of Toronto, picture, image, illustration

Alice Evelyn Wilson graduated from Toronto University

The burly prospector halted in his tracks and stood looking at the slim girl who was kneeling at the base of a cliff. It was surprising enough to see a girl in this wild part of the Canadian back country, but what surprised the prospector even more was what she was doing. She was tapping at the rock with a small hammer.

“Pardon me, Miss,” he said, “but if you’re looking for gold, it’s going to take you a mighty long time to dig a mine with that little hammer.”

Startled, the girl looked up. “But I’m not looking for gold,” she smiled. “I just want samples of this rock.”

“But that old rock ain’t worth nothin’,” said the prospector, shaking his head.

“It is to me,” laughed Alice Evelyn Wilson.

The old prospector was not the only one who could not understand Alice’s interest in geology. But right from her school days it was a science that fascinated her. People thought it a rather dull subject for a lively young girl, but Alice was never happier than when she was collecting mineral samples or trying to estimate the age of rocks.

In 1900 she joined the Geological Survey of Canada, and later transferred to a museum of geology in 1909. In 1911 she gained her BA degree at the University of Toronto. Eight years later, she became an Assistant Palaeontologist, until 1936 when, having been awarded an MBE for her distinguished work the year before, she resumed her work as a geologist. She became well known for various surveys she conducted for the Canadian Government, but she became more widely known for the fact that she proved a woman could succeed in what had always been considered a man’s world.

Perhaps her greatest honour came in 1938 when she became the first woman ever to be elected to the Royal Society of Canada. She retired from her post of Government Geologist in 1946, but continued working as a consultant to oil companies. She died on 5th April, 1964.

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