Florence Bascom

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Florence Bascom
Florence Bascom2.jpg
Florence Bascom[1]
Born July 14, 1862
Williamstown, Massachusetts
Died June 18, 1945(1945-06-18) (aged 82)
Nationality United States
Fields Geology
Alma mater

Florence Bascom (July 14, 1862 – June 18, 1945) was the first woman hired by the United States Geological Survey, known for her innovative use of petrography in studying crystalline rocks and identifying their origins. She was of Huguenot and Basque ancestry.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts on July 14, 1862. Her father, John Bascom, was a professor at Williams College and later President of University of Wisconsin-Madison.[2] John Bascom was a steadfast supporter of women's rights and encouraged women to obtain a college education. Florence Bascom earned her B.A. degree in 1882 and her B.S. in 1884 from the University of Wisconsin, and stayed there to obtain her M.S. degree in 1887.[3] She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University, which she did in 1893. While studying at John Hopkins she was forced to sit behind a screen so as not to disturb the men.[2] She was the second American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology.[3] She then taught for one year at Hampton University, two years at Rockford College,[3] and two years at Ohio State University before beginning her teaching career at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania,[2] where she founded the Department of Geology.[3] Bascom retired from teaching in 1928 but continued to work at the U.S. Geological Survey until 1936.[2]


Bascom received the position of assistant geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in 1896, the first woman to be appointed. From 1896 to 1908, she was an associate editor of the magazine American Geologist.[4] Bascom was promoted to geologist by the USGS and assigned the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont region of the United States. A great deal of her work involved the crystalline rocks and geomorphology of this region.[5] This work is still influential in the 21st century.[3] She created well-known U.S. Geological Survey folios on Philadelphia (1909), Trenton (1909), Elkton-Wilmington (1920), Quakertown-Doylestown (1931), and Honeybrook-Phoenixville (1938).[4] She was given 4 stars in the first edition of American Men and Women of Science (called American Men of Science at the time), a very high honor for a scientist of any gender.[3]

Bascom's dissertation, on the re-identification of certain rocks thought to be sedimentary as actually metamorphic rocks formed from lava, used cutting-edge petrographic techniques and was highly influential.[3]

She had several students who would become members of the USGS: Eleanora Bliss Knopf, Anna Jonas Stose, Louise Kingsley, Katharine Fowler-Billings, Mary Porter, and Julie Gardner.[2]

In 1894, Florence Bascom was the first woman elected to the Geological Society of America. She became a councilor in 1924 and a vice-president of the society in 1930. She was a member of the United States National Research Council and of the American Geophysical Union.[5] The Geological Society of Washington allowed her to present a paper, the first woman who was afforded that honor.[3]

Florence Bascom died of a stroke on June 18, 1945.[3]

Named in honor of Florence Bascom[edit]


Florence Bascom published over 40 articles on genetic petrography, geomorphology, and gravel.[4] Her own account of her youth in Madison may be found in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, Mar 1925.[6]

  • "The Geology of the Crystalline Rocks of Cecil County" Maryland Geological Survey (1902)
  • "The ancient volcanic rocks of South Mountain, Pennsylvania" Pennsylvania US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 136 (1896)
  • "Water resources of the Philadelphia district" US Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper No. 106 (1904)
  • "Geology and mineral resources of the Quakertown-Doylestown district, Pennsylvania and New Jersey" Edgar Theodore Wherry and George Willis Stose. US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 828 (1931)
  • "Elkton-Wilmington folio, Maryland-Delaware-New Jersey-Pennsylvania" with B.L. Miller. Geologic atlas of the United States; Folio No. 211 (1920)


  1. ^ "Florence Bascom (1862-1945)". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Gohn, Kathleen K. (2004). "Celebrating 125 Years of the U.S. Geological Survey". U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1274. p. 4. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gates, Alexander E. (2009). A to Z of Earth Scientists. Facts on File. ISBN 9781438109190. 
  4. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. "Florence Bascom". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. [full citation needed]
  5. ^ a b Rosenberg, Carroll S. (1971). "BASCOM, Florence (July 14, 1862-June 18, 1945)". Notable American Women: 1607-1950. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Bascom, Florence (1924–1925). "The University in 1874-1887". The Wisconsin Magazine of History. Wisconsin Historical Society. pp. 300–308. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 

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