Wednesday, April 1, 2015

First Female Scientists in Antarctica

It seems that many people agreed with Darlington when she stated that she did not think women belonged in Antarctica. It was long believed, by both sexes, that the female sex, the "weaker" of the two, would not be able to endure the rough Antarctic continent. Antarctica became, in many ways, the last, great "boys club". It was as if Antarctica was a giant tree house with an even bigger "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" hung up above it. Sure, the occasional "girl" got it, due to special circumstances such as being married to a member of an expedition, but they were not allowed in based on their own merits. In fact, the United States Navy REFUSED to transport women to Antarctica. Even if American scientists, who happened to be female, were able to somehow get to Antarctica, they would not be allowed to work on the ice, as the National Science Foundation (NSF) forbade women from working on the ice.

*Now, for the past several days I have been trying to figure out for sure who the first woman was to actually be allowed on Antarctica as a scientist. I keep finding articles and such that state who the first American female scientist, or Australian female scientist, etc. but not just the flat out first female scientist.*

It wasn't until the 1950's when Marie V. Klenova, a Russian marine geologist, was a part of an oceanographic team that was mapping uncharted portions of the continent that we see the first woman as an official part of scientific team in Antarctica. Russian women had sailed aboard whaling ships for years in the area, which made it a bit easier for her to break into the Antarctic scientific world. Klenova's work was part of the first atlas of Antarctica which the Soviet Union published.

Besides Marie Klenova, women did not do much work on the ice in the 40's and 50's as many countries, like the United States, did not allow women on the ice. In fact, it was not until the very end of the 1960's, after the Women's Liberation Movement, that we begin to see women actively participating in scientific endeavors on the Antarctic continent. The first woman to become a member of the United States Antarctic Research Program was Christine Muller-Schwarze, a psychologist with her Ph.D. from Utah State University. Alongside her scientist husband she studied the behavior of penguins on the Antarctic.

After Muller-Schwarze was able to break into the scene, the floodgates opened, and more women came to work on the frozen continent. Just a few weeks after the study of penguin behavior started, an all women team from Ohio State University arrived, headed by Lois Jones. Among the four women team was a 19 year old undergraduate student, Terry Tickhill Terrell, who joined the team after despairing at the idea of spending her entire college career inside of a chemistry lab.

The team from OSU, Kay Lindsay, Terry Tickhill Terrell, Lois Jones, and Eilenn McSaveney. 

Terry Terrell, who had never traveled more than 300 miles from her home, was now traveling to the bottom of the world, not quite knowing all of the barriers that had always stood between women and the place she was now headed to. There was a concern, or maybe a belief, that these women would not be able to make it down in the Antarctic. Their every move was watched, would they mess up? Would they come off weak, needy, inept? Knowing that they were under extreme scrutiny, the women kept to themselves, taking care of every issue they could on their own, and did what they came to do.

After awhile everyone came to accept that these women were there, and not only were they there, but they were doing their jobs quite well. Eventually the Navy decided to "cash in" on this novelty of women on their continent. Up to this point no woman had ever stepped foot on the South Pole. The Navy took the women down to the South Pole and organized the moment of the first woman to step foot on the very bottom of the Earth. The only problem was, who would be first? Rear Admiral D.F. Welch who was the commander of the naval forces in Antarctica at the time decided with Solomon like wisdom that the solution was for all six women to jump off the back of the plane at the same time, so they could all be the first woman to step foot on the South Pole. 

November 12, 1969 LtR Pam Young, Jean Pearson, Terry Tickhill Terell, Lois Jones, Eileen McSaveney, and Kay Lindsay.

Woman had arrived at the South Pole. It was a momentous occasion and was an event that was a long time coming. While women are still not in equal number as men on the Antarctic continent, they are at least now represented, and more so than they have been in past years. 

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