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Florence Bascom Essay

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Updated: Jan 12th, 2020


The Earth is made up of several materials that come together to bring the balance that coexists between materials. It comprises solid matter, gaseous matter, and liquid matter, which have been balanced in a way to hold each other to make the earth.

The earth is stratified in such a way that there are different layers making it up with each layer being made up of certain materials that define it. Therefore, the study of the materials making up the earth in addition to how the materials relate with others is known as geology. It is meant to bring about the understanding of materials making up the earth and their impact on it.

As Nentwich explains, geologists are scientists who study the earth’s structure and the changes that happen to it (127). The world has seen great geologists who have had a great impact on the field of geology. They include Louis Agassiz, Edward Drinker, Charles Darwin, and James Hutton among many others. The most outstanding geologist who forms the basis of the paper is Florence Bascom. The paper intends to find out more about her life and her contribution towards the field of geology.

Florence Bascom’s Background

Florence Bascom comes out as an outstanding geologist in a field dominated by men for the achievements she was able to attain during her lifetime. She is an outstanding woman not only because of her achievements but also because of the time she achieved them thus making her come out as the first in the field among women as well as among many accomplished men.

During the 19th century, male chauvinism was still rife. Women were looked down upon concerning their roles in society. This notion therefore cuts out women’s role in society by limiting them within specific fields and careers. Therefore, for Bascom to define her niche in a field dominated by men, she must have exercised lots of expertise in the field to garner the recognition she was able to achieve.

Her Birth

Florence Bascom was born in the year 1862 in Williamson town-Massachusetts to John Bascom and Emma Bascom who were both working-class citizens. She was the youngest child of Bascom’s family that had six children in total. John Bascom was a professor at William College while Emma Bascom was a schoolteacher (Schneiderman 8).

Both parents supported the education of women in those days when it was not so important to take girls to school. This support enabled her to get a good education especially based on the moves her father made. There is a very little information that can be used to describe the early childhood of Florence Bascom thus making it difficult for anyone to describe her childhood life since her birth.

Most of the information one is able to find on Florence Bascom is mostly after she had grown up since there are no clear details on her life before. Other than her family background whereby she is the youngest child of Bascom and the date of her birth, there is little or no more information from her birth until her time in college. It can therefore be assumed that she was brought up in a proper family reminiscent of the family set up in the 19th century.

This case marks the only way of filling up the account of her childhood since birth until she was a teenager. In the 19th Century, the family as it is today was a basic unit of society. There was so much respect accorded to the institution of the family in that most families remained intact and hence a proper place for bringing up children.


Florence Bascom was able to get an education because she was born to educated and working-class parents who understood the meaning and importance of education. This advantage enabled not only Florence but also her siblings to get the education.

The education of Florence Bascom is therefore attributed to the importance her parents saw in education because both of them were educationists who supported the education of women. As Schneiderman finds, John Bascom was a known supporter for women coeducation in those days when most universities were just meant for men. He was able to influence the admission of women in universities though the whole process remained restrictive to women (8).

In 1874, Professor Bascom was made the president of the University of Wisconsin. Due to his support for women coeducation, he was able to deploy his influence to start an admission program for women in the same university in 1875 thus opening the way for his daughter to join the same university in 1877 where Florence enrolled for her Bachelor’s degrees. During her time at the university, women were considered a distraction to men.

They were only offered limited access to some facilities as well as some areas in the university. The university was generally a place for men. The presence of women was deemed foreign. Thus, women were allowed restricted right to use to records and the sports hall. They could not attend classes full of men. This situation therefore made her education at the university and that of other women strenuous thus making it a great feat for a woman to achieve academic success (Turner 408).

After graduating with a degree in Arts, Letters in 1882, and then a degree in sciences in the year 1884, she developed an interest in geology, which she took up and later on graduated with a master’s degree in the same field in the year 1887. Florence’s concentration in the field under scrutiny is accredited to Edward Orton who was her father’s acquaintance and a lecturer of Geology.

Orton shared the same sentiments with John Bascom concerning the coeducation of women. He is credited to have opened the study of geology to more women. After getting an admission to join a graduate class at the John Hopkins University in 1889, Florence was able to graduate with a PhD in geology in the year 1893 making her the only second woman to obtain a PhD in geology after Mary Holes who obtained hers in 1888 (Schneiderman 8).

During Florence’s time at the John Hopkins University, she was forced to attend her classes behind a screen not to distract men in her class though this did not stop her from attaining her papers. She was therefore a willful person in her pursuit of education that nothing could stop her from attaining it. After attaining her degree in geology, she started working in the same filed in different capacities as a geologist. In most of the places she worked, she became a respected authority.

Her Death

Florence Bascom died in the year 1945 after having lived for 83 years. He attained so much in terms of education as well as contributing towards the field of geology. By the time of her death, she had already retired from the positions she was holding. She remains a respected authority in the field of geology.

Her Contributions towards the Field of Geology

Florence Bascom is credited with many feats in the field of geology at which she was counted among the first in many things that she did. She can thus be looked up to as guide to other women who came behind her.

She made the field of geology an attraction to women after she proved to the male dominated world that women also could achieve so much that men can achieve. Florence pursuit of geology made her become one of the greatest contributors to this field. Having been trained by experts in geology from different parts of the world, she attained her status and mettle through her findings in research.

Scheneiderman finds that she specialized in the fields of crystallography, mineralogy, and petrology. Her contributions still stand because they were made at the infancy of most of these fields (Scheneiderman 9). Florence’s earliest contribution to the field of geology was through her dissertation where she was able to prove using petrography that some rocks were actually metamorphosed lava flows and not sediments as previously believed or assumed.

Petrography was the use of optical microscopy for studying the composition of rocks. Thus, she can be described as a petrographer in scientific terms. She went ahead to become an expert in crystalline rocks, which led her to publish several papers on the same. Her publications have been used to further improve the study of geology.

They have set a baseline for study of the same because they are known to have been ground breaking. Florence was a leader among women who opened doors in areas where women had never reached, or had been locked out thus becoming a person who set the pace for women especially in the field of geology. In her study of the crystalline rocks of the Appalachian Piedmont, she was able to publish over 40 papers about the studies she had carried out.

These papers and their findings were published in respected geology publications like the United States Geology Survey Bulletins among many others (Nentwich 129). As part of her research work, Florence was able to map very large areas in the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland in terms of their geological make-ups thus contributing a lot to the study of geology in the United States of America. This achievement earned her recognition among eminent researchers who were mostly men.

One of Florence’s great contributions towards geology was the opening up of the field for more women to join. She was able to achieve this goal when she went to teach at the Bryn Mawr College. After two years, she was able to establish a geology department. The specific department she started has been credited with the training of so many geology women and hence a great contribution towards geology training.

She can therefore be credited with the empowering of women training in universities especially when it was against the grain to have women training at the university (Turner 407). During her time while conducting petrographic research and surveys, she came up with a program that was the most outstanding then in terms of coordinating the research program. This program placed her on top of men who were also conducting their own research in geology thus making her count among the best.

As Schneiderman finds, she was the first woman ever to be hired by the United States Geological survey as a geologist in the period when male chauvinism reigned supreme. For a woman to be admitted in such a society, which was like a males’ club, she must have been good in her work (Schneiderman 8). She is again recognized by the geological culture of Washington as the first female to hand in a publication before it and hence to the distinguished group of geologists for her research work.

Findings must have been good enough to earn her such an opportunity. In those days, there were very few women scholars because most careers taken up by women were mostly those perceived to be women careers. Florence was able to achieve her feats against the backdrop of prejudices against women, which had inhibited women abilities then. Women of the society she lived in did not have equal opportunities with men. The year 1924 saw Florence become the first female to be a representative with the Geological culture of America.

She went on to become the first woman vice president in 1930. In the early 20th Century, she was recognized among the top 100 geologists in America (Schneiderman 9). Between the years 1896-1906, Florence Bascom was an associate editor of the publication known as the American Geologist. This work was one of the few publications where geologists published their research findings.

For Florence Bascom to be an editor of such a publication, it meant that she had a wide knowledge in the field of geology and that she was a respected authority in the same. Turner argues that, through her knowledge of rocks, Florence became an expert in the field of mountain building. She thus brought out greater and easy understanding of mountains in terms of their formation as well as composition (Turner 406).

Florence also taught in numerous universities where she inspired many men and women in the field of geology. During the years 1884-1885, “she taught at the Hampton Institute for Negroes and American Indians” (Schneiderman 8). This placement was a minority institution in a country where racial segregation was rife. She is therefore credited at the same time for working towards the development of education not only among women but also among the minority.

She went ahead to teach in many different colleges, which include the Rockford College 1887-1889, the Ohio State University between 1893-1895, and the Bryn Mawr College from 1895 where she established a department of geology. Many celebrated women geologists of early 20th century credit their success to Florence Bascom.

Schneiderman finds that, during her time at the Bryn Mawr, she was able to develop within a short time a collection of rock fossils, which she used as a basis of training many young women that passed through her hands (8). The development of this collection was Florence’s own initiative that led to the establishment of a department of geology in the college.

Some of the women who credit their success in geology are Louis Kingsley, Katherine Fowler Billings, crystallographer Mary Porter, and Eleanora Bliss Knoft among many others who pay tribute to Florence Bascom. As Nentwich puts it, Other than training fellow geologists, Florence was also an accomplished author of many publications that were because of her research work, which formed the basis of research for many years up to date in the field petrology as well as crystallography (128).

Her findings about the piedmont area are still in use up to date meaning that, even with the development of technology to date, her contributions have not been found to be obsolete. On the contrary, the comprise one of the best findings ever thus giving her a place in the hall of fame for geologists. Florence’s father always inspired her. This strategy seems to be the driving force behind her. In one of the letter he wrote to her, he encouraged her by asking her to make her work an immediate joy.


The study of geology has metamorphosed from a field exclusively that was initially set aside for men only to a field for all people with the ability to train and understand it. It can be said that there would be a big vacuum in the field of geology had Florence Bascom not come in with her findings that are being used up to date because they form a basis of many geological studies that are being studied currently.

Her selfless drive to serve others pushed her to work hard to empower women among other minority groups to take up geology as a field of study.

Works Cited

Nentwich, Franz. “Women in Geoscience in Canada and the United States.” A

Comparative Study 37.3 (2010): 127-134. Print.

Schneiderman, Jill. “Rock Stars. A Life of Firsts: Florence Bascom.” Geology Survey Association 1.1 (1997): 8-9. Print.

Turner, Susan. “Not So Quiet Persuasion.” The Cannon of Women in the Geological Sciences 18.3 (2009): 405-412.

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