Florence Bascom

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

Florence Bascom (July 14, 1862 – June 18, 1945) was an American geologist known for her innovative use of petrography in studying crystalline rocks and identifying their origins. In 1896, she became the first woman hired by the United States Geological Survey.

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[1] and her mother, Emma Curtiss Bascom, was a women's rights activist involved in the suffrage movement.[2] Her parents were steadfast supporters of women's rights and encouraged women to obtain a college education. Florence Bascom earned a B.A. and a B.Litt. 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 Johns Hopkins she was forced to sit behind a screen so as not to disturb the men.[1] She was the second American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology.[3] She started her college teaching career in 1884 at the Hampton School of Negroes and American Indians (currently known as Hampton University), working there for a year before going back to university of Wisconsin for her masters. Once completed with her masters she taught mathematics and science at Rockford College from 1887 to 1889, and later at Ohio State University from 1893 to 1895.[3] Leaving Ohio State University to work at Bryn Mawr College where she could pursue being able to conduct original research, and teach higher level Geology courses. There she founded the Department of Geology,[3] and started a graduate program that trained many of the first women geologists of the 20th century.[2] Bascom retired from teaching in 1928 but continued to work at the U.S. Geological Survey until 1936.[1]


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 in 1909 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]

She is also accredited with contributing greatly to the understanding of how the Appalachian mountain range had been formed through her studies with the research process of petrology. Dr. Bascom was a professor of geology at Bryn Mawr College for 33 years where she influenced and taught most of the women geologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and establishing her impact on the future of geological research in the United States.[6]

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 to the field of geology.[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,[1] as well as Ida Helen Ogilvie.[7]

In 1894, Florence Bascom was the second woman elected to the Geological Society of America.[2][7] 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.[8]

  • "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)
  • American Mineralogist, Volume 31, 1946.
  • Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, November, 1945; spring, 1965.
  • Science, September, 1945.
  • University of Wisconsin Department of Geology and Geophysics Alumni Newsletter, 1991
  • Arnold, Lois Barber, Four Lives in Sciences, Schocken Books, 1984.
  • Smith, Isabel F., The Stone Lady: A Memoir of Florence Bascom, Bryn Mawr College, 1981.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Gohn, Kathleen K. (2004). "Celebrating 125 Years of the U.S. Geological Survey" (PDF). U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1274. p. 4. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Clary, Renee (2007). "Great expectations: Florence Bascom (1842–1945) and the education of early US women geologists.". The Role of Women in the History of Geology: The Geological Society of London. Special Publication 281: 123–135. 
  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. ^ "Biographies of Women in Science". www.eiu.edu. 
  7. ^ a b Eckel, Edwin B. (1982). The Geological Society of America, life history of a learned society. Boulder, Colo.: Geological Society of America. p. 37. ISBN 978-0813711553. 
  8. ^ Bascom, Florence (1924–1925). "The University in 1874-1887". The Wisconsin Magazine of History. Wisconsin Historical Society. pp. 300–308. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  9. ^ "Florence Bascom Facts". biography.yourdictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-10-06. 

External links[edit]