Mar 7, 2020

Being Seen & Heard – Women in the Sedgwick Museum Archives

Women’s contribution to geological science can be ‘seen and heard’ in the Collections at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, and especially in the Archives.

On Sunday 8th March 2020 it’s International Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate women's achievement as well as raising awareness and taking action for equality. The Sedgwick Museum is using this important date in the calendar to build on prevous events in 2019 which looked at its collections from a different narrative, one that is equally valid but that has not been especially visible.

Category: 2020
Posted by: Sarah

In the Sedgwick museum archive, women appear in expedition photographs and sketches, and their work is documented in diary entries in scrapbooks. Their attendance and participation at meetings and talks is recorded in the Sedgwick Club minute books. Museum specimen catalogues were written with the help of female students, and they donated thousands of specimens to the Sedgwick Museum’s Collections. Some of these are on display but many more remain in the stores.

This photograph was taken of an excursion to Wales in 1885.

Four women (including Mrs Mary McKenny Hughes, see below) were on this trip; Beatrice Taylor, Ellen Stones and Anny Adams who all became teachers. There were few other ‘acceptable’ options for employment before marriage.

It would be another 11 years before women were admitted to the Sedgwick Club.

This photograph was taken in the Malverns, 1892.

The trip included Gertrude Elles (far left), Ethel Wood (reclining), Margaret Crossfield (right hand side), and Elizabeth Dale (behind Professor McKenny Hughes). Three women on this excursion became fellows of the Geological SocietyGertrude Elles, Margaret Crossfield and Ethel Skeat.

Sketch of an unidentified female member of the expedition to the Malverns, 1892. The artist may have been Mary Caroline Hughes (1868-1916), the wife of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes. She was a keen amateur photographer and artist. Reference: SGWC 02/02/10

It would still be another 4 years before women were admitted to the Sedgwick Club. 

Sedgwick Club

The Sedgwick Club, founded in 1880, is the oldest student geological club in the world. It would be another 16 years before women were admitted, in January 1896. The minutes state:

‘Mr Brend then said that the club existed with the object of the promoting the study of geology and as there were now ladies working at the Woodwardian Museum who had shown good ability in the pursuit of that science he thought that the club would benefit by admitting them as members’. (Reference, SGWC 01/01/06)

They were able to attend meetings, go on excursions, and give papers about their research. This progressive development allowed women in Cambridge to have an enhanced experience, both academically and socially.

Below are some examples of early female Sedgwick Club members, recording how many Sedgwick Club meetings they attended and if they gave any papers, and whether they deposited any objects at the Sedgwick Museum. Whilst some only attended 2 or 3 meetings, others were life-long members, but each led fascinating lives in their respective fields.

Elizabeth Dale (1868-1936) 
Botany Assistant in the Balfour Laboratory 1898-1914
• Attended 6 meetings 1897-1903.
• Presented 2 papers: The Glacial Geology of the Neighbourhood of 
Buxton (10/01/1898) and On Recent Fossil Species of Sequoia 
Agnes Robertson (1868-1936) married name: Arber
First female botanist to be elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in March 1946, aged 67. 
• Attended 13 meetings 1900-1902.
Gertrude Lillian Elles (1872-1960) 
Geologist, MBE for her work with Red Cross during the First World War, one of the first female fellows of Geological Society 1919, Director of Studies and Vice-Principal of Newnham College. 
• Attended 200+ meetings 1896-1953
• Presented 19 papers including Structure of Graptolites (03/03/1896) 
and The Great Rift Valley of Africa 06/02/1951 (as Dr. Elles)
• Deposited 3700 specimens.
Louisa Jebb (1879-1929) mn: Wilkins
First woman to take the Agriculture Diploma at the University of Cambridge, instrumental in establishment of the Women’s National Land Service Corps during the First World War, Governor of the Agricultural Organisation Society. 
• Attended 2 meetings 1896-1902
Helen Drew (1881-1927) 
Teacher in Somerset, Surrey and Yorkshire, Headmistress of Newark High School, Nottinghamshire 1916-22 and Colston's Girls' School, Somerset, 1922-27. 
• Attended 20 meetings 1902-1904
• Deposited 3 specimens
Ida Slater (1881-1969) mn: Lees
Demonstrator in Geology at Bedford College
• Attended 29 meetings 1902-1905, and Honorary-Secretary 1903-04
• Presented 2 papers: The Probable Origin of Some Types of Valleys 
(10/11/1903) and Some Aspects of Vertebrate Palaeontology 
• Deposited 147 specimens

Margaret Flowerdew MacPhee (1886-1931) mn: Romanes
Demonstrator in Geology at University of Glasgow
• 2 meetings 1907-1909
• Presented 1 paper: Firth of Clyde (26/01/1909)
• Deposited 4 specimens

Kathleen Haddon (1888-1961) mn: Rishbeth
Demonstrator in Zoology from 1911 to 1914.
• 20 meetings 1909-1914
• Presented 2 papers: Grand Canyon of Colorado (26/10/1909) and 
Geology and Evolution (19/11/1912)
• Deposited 2 specimens
Phylis Kathleen Jewson (1885-1946) mn: Woodall
Vienna with Friends Relief Mission for 4 years, and then had various teaching posts, Principal of Norfolk House School in London, 1936-1946.
• Attended 11 meetings (1911-1913), President 1911-1912
• Presented 1 paper: The Origin of Earthquakes (20/02/1912)
Alice Barbara Dale (1891-1989) mn: White
Junior Assistant National Physics Laboratory 1915-20, Bursar of Newnham College 1946-1958. 
• Attended 10 meetings 1912-1915

Alice Buxton Taylor (1891-1969) mn: Winnicott
Junior Assistant Natural Physics Laboratory, 1916-1921 and designer of Claverdon pottery 1935-1947. 
• Attended 4 meetings 1913-1915
Marjorie Elizabeth Jane Chandler (1897-1983) 
Research assistant to Eleanor Mary Reid (1860-1953) and research worker in Palaeobotany for the British Museum. 
• Attended 8 meetings 1919-1920
• Presented 1 paper: Peat (18/11/1919)
• Deposited 870 specimens

Mary Caroline Weston (1863-1916) was not a student of Cambridge University but she married the 8th Woodwardian Professor, Thomas McKenny Hughes in 1883. 

Mrs Hughes was a keen photographer and amateur geologist. Her presence on excursions ensured other women could attend and benefit from the ‘fell-side rambles and mountaineering expeditions’. She very effectively ‘companioned as well as chaperoned’ (The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper, 1890) young girl-graduates and pointed out the different stages of development and condition of specimens.

Hughes published ‘On the Mollusca of the Pleistocene Gravels in the Neighbourhood of Cambridge’ in 1888. In 1909, in collaboration with her husband, she compiled the volume on Cambridgeshire in the County Geography series.

Hughes attended IGC (International Geological Congress) meetings with her husband. She visited Berlin, Zurich, Russia, and Washington, maintaining photographs and diaries. Her vivid accounts often included sketches, photographs, and herbaria. 

Herbaria from Zurich and photograph of Mrs Hughes at the lecture of Karl Alfred Von Zittel, Zurich 1894. Reference: MCHS 742c


These women were included in a poster, presented at a conference at the Geological Society in May 2019, celebrating 100 years since Women became fellows.


Feminist Tours:
The stories we have been uncovering are inspiring us to think about our collections in different ways.

In December 2019 the Sedgwick Museum held its first ever festival of feminism, highlighting the lesser-known stories of trailblazing women of geology and palaeontology through a series of interdisciplinary art/science workshops run by geologist and landscape artist Emma Theresa Jude.

We will be holding a 'Feminist Tour at Four' during this year’s Science Festival.Although this event has already sold out, we envisage feminist tours becoming a regular feature of the Museums events programme. These will involve looking at objects and photographs on display in the museum, through a feminist lens.

Please get in touch if you have any stories about women ‘in the field’, we would love to hear them.

The Museum website will be updated with news of future tours, so watch this space.
Sandra Freshney, Sedgwick Museum Archivist.
Telephone 01223 765717