A leading innovator of geology, Florence Bascom was the second woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology in the United States and the first woman employed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). A genuine pioneer in geoscience, she geologically mapped a good portion of the United States, founded a leading academic center of geology, and paved the way for future female geologists.
In 1862, Bascom was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the daughter of a professor and a suffragist teacher. After first earning a bachelor of arts, she next studied at the University of Wisconsin, earning a bachelor of science in 1884, and a master of science in 1887. In 1893, Bascom received the first awarded Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, where she was required to sit behind a screen lest she disturb the men. Her doctorate work explored the origins and formation of the Appalachian Mountains.
Bascom worked as an assistant geologist for USGS and served as an associate editor of the magazine American Geologist. In 1906, the first edition of the American Men of Science rated her among the top one hundred leading geologists in the country. In 1909, she was promoted to geologist. The second woman elected to the Geological Society of America in 1894, she was the first woman elected to the Council of the Geological Society of America in 1924; another woman would not be nominated until after 1945. She was also a member of the United States National Research Council, as well as the American Geophysical Union.
Bascom founded the esteemed geology department at Bryn Mawr College and taught for thirty-three years. In addition to teaching, Bascom maintained an active field research program that specialized in petrography. Her research in Piedmont geology remains relevant today. Bascom published over forty articles on genetic petrography, geomorphology, and gravels. A crater, an asteroid, and a postglacial lake have all been named in her honor.
“The fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment…but in the pursuit, where all the powers of the mind and are absorbed in the task. One feels oneself in contact with something that is infinite and one finds a joy that is beyond expression in ‘sounding the abyss of science’ and the secrets of the infinite mind”—Florence Bascom, 1928