A snapshot biography of geologist Florence Bascom

Florence Bascom

Florence Bascom loved being out, working in the outdoors. “This is the life, to plunge into the welcome isolation of the field,” in her words. 

Known as the “first woman geologist” in the U.S., Florence was born in 1862 in Williamstown, Ma, where her father was a professor at Williams College, and her mother, a teacher and a suffragist. Both encouraged their daughter to pursue her education. Which she did. A talented student from a young age, in 1877, Florence entered college at University of Wisconsin, where she received two bachelor’s degrees and a Master of Science. Then she earned her PhD in Geology at Johns Hopkins University in 1893, becoming the first woman to receive a degree from the institution and the second woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in geology.

Florences’s career was equally impressive. After her Ph.D., she spent two years as an instructor and associate professor at Ohio State University. She then moved to Bryn Mawr College in 1895, where she founded the department of geology, transforming it into one of the country’s leading geology departments. In 1896, she became the first woman to work for the United States Geological Survey. Florence made significant contributions to geology, particularly in petrography, geomorphology, and the study of acidic volcanic rocks. She developed new methods for identifying and naming acidic changes in rocks, including the creation of prefixes like meta-, epi-, and apo.

Along with her work as a geologist, Florence was also a dedicated educator. At Bryn Mawr College, she established a rigorous graduate program in geology, focusing on lab and fieldwork. She was known for her high standards and played a significant role in training the next generation of American female geologists. Many of her students went on to have successful careers in geology.

Florence passed away in 1945 at age 82.


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“A snapshot biography of geologist Florence Bascom” sources:

  1. Ogilvie, Ida H. “Florence Bascom: 1862-1945.” Science, vol. 102, no. 2648, 1945, pp. 320–321. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1673368. Accessed 17 Nov. 2020.
  2. https://www.nps.gov/people/the-stone-lady-florence-bascom.htm
  3. “Florence Bascom.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Bascom
  4. Creator/Photographer: Camera Craft Studios, Minneapolis / Smithsonian Institution Archives Collection: Science Service Records, 1902-1965 (Record Unit 7091) / “Florence Bascom2.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Florence_Bascom2.jpg
  5. Rock Stars – “A Life of Firsts: Florence Bascom” by Jill Schneiderman. The Geological Society of America, https://rock.geosociety.org/net/gsatoday/archive/8/7/pdf/i1052-5173-8-7-8.pdf