Helen M. Duncan

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Helen M. Duncan
Born May 3, 1910
Medford, Oregon
Died August 14, 1971(1971-08-14) (aged 61)
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Montana
Occupation Geologist, paleontologist

Helen Margaret Duncan (May 3, 1910 – August 14, 1971) was a geologist and paleontologist with the United States Geological Survey from 1945 to 1971, where she worked in the Paleontology and Stratigraphy Branch.[1]


Born in 1910 in Medford, Oregon, Duncan grew up near Virginia City, Montana.[1] In 1934, she received her bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Montana, and completed her master's degree in geology from the same institution in 1937. Her master's thesis, Trepostomata from the Traverse group of Michigan, was published by the University of Michigan and is considered "a classic in its field".[1] She taught at the University of Cincinnati before joining the USGS to work on military projects.[2]

In her career, Duncan gained a distinguished reputation for her work on fossil corals and Bryozoa.[2] She was the first to identify Bighornia. This work was especially important because Bighornia is substantially different than those fossil horn corals found in the eastern United States. Much of her work identified and correlated fossil corals throughout the western United States and Canada that had never been previously identified. Through these efforts, her impact was large enough that her fossil descriptions can be used to identify index fossils for the Ordovician and Silurian geologic periods. Duncan's work was extremely detailed and meticulous, and her descriptions continue to be used as example of thoroughness in modern paleontology classes. For example, Paleontologist J. Thomas Dutro, Jr. credited Duncan for setting "a high standard", which influenced his own work.[3]

Duncan began with the USGS as an editor in 1942 before becoming a geologist in 1945. While working with the USGS during World War II, she worked on a wartime fluorspar project under James Steele Williams.[1][4] The United States was a major producer of fluorspar during World War II.[5] Fluorspar/fluorite was classified as critical during World War II because a large percentage of United States consumption of this industrially important mineral was satisfied by imports.[citation needed]

In the early 1950s, she assisted collecting samples for George C. Hardin's Babb Fault System, Crittenden and Livingston Counties.[6]



  1. ^ a b c d Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century. Taylor & Francis US. pp. 384–. ISBN 978-0-415-92038-4. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Kass-Simon, Gabriele (February 1993). Women of Science: Righting the Record. Indiana University Press. pp. 57–. ISBN 978-0-253-20813-2. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Geological Survey (U.S.) (1979). Geological Survey professional paper. Govt. Print. Off. p. DH3. Retrieved 3 April 2012. 
  4. ^ "SIA RU007397, Duncan, Helen M. 1910-1971, Helen M. Duncan Papers, 1937-1966". Finding Aid for Helen M. Duncan Papers, 1937-1966. Smithsonian Institution Archives. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  5. ^ "Mineral of the Month: Fluorspar" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Hardin, George C. "Babb Fault System, Crittenden and Livingston Counties" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 

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