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Women’s History Month at the Museum

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Person outdoors beside rock face in daytime. Looking over her left shoulder backward at camera. Wearing wide brimmed hat and long-sleeved field shirt.
Delia J. Akeley in Kenya, 1905. 
Courtesy of the Martha Miller Bliven family

March is Women's History Month, and we’re looking to our nearly 150-year past, exciting present, and bright future to bring you stories of women in science here at the American Museum of Natural History.

In the first few decades of the Museum, which was founded in 1869, several women played important, if informal, roles in developing new types of natural history exhibits to bring the latest science to the public. Museum ornithologist Frank Chapman, who pioneered “habitat group” displays, relied on his wife Fannie while collecting materials in the field. Shortly after their wedding in 1898, Frank discovered to his "mixed astonishment and joy" that Fannie was an excellent specimen preparator, and she became his field assistant. Delia “Mickie” Akeley, wife of explorer and taxidermist Carl Akeley who conceived the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, was herself an adventurer and artist. She assisted Carl as he perfected a novel method of taxidermy, and collected specimens on several key expeditions to Africa. And it’s a good thing she did—on a trip in 1909, Delia saved Carl’s life after he was attacked by a bull elephant.

Margaret Mead at her desk
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was a curator at the Museum until her death in 1978.

That same year, herpetologist Mary C. Dickerson—who had published The Frog Book in 1906—became one of four founding curators in the Museum’s Department of Herpetology and Ichthyology. Within 10 years, she laid the foundation for a standalone herpetology department, which formed under her direction in 1920. Another trailblazer, anthropologist Margaret Mead, joined the Museum in 1926, at the age of 25, as an assistant curator. Two years later, she published her best-selling book Coming of Age in Samoa, which introduced readers to the value of looking carefully and open-mindedly at other cultures and is still taught in anthropology classrooms.

Nearly a century later, the Museum is home to women scientists across all disciplines, as curators and collections managers, researchers and Ph.D. candidates in the Richard Gilder Graduate School, and even as high school students working on research through the Museum’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP)

This March, we’ll be profiling women in science across the Museum, so make sure to follow along on the Museum’s social media channels-- @AMNH on Twitter, and on Facebook and tumblr.