History of Scientific Women

Alice Evelyn Wilson was Canada's first female geologist. Her scientific studies of the rocks and fossils of the Ottawa region between 1913 and 1963 remain a respected source of knowledge.

Wilson grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. The canoeing and camping trips with her father and brothers sparked her interest in fossils. Her family also encouraged scholarly thought and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. In 1901 Wilson began studying modern language and history at the Victoria College in Toronto. She did not finish her last year of studies due to ill health. But she was hired by the Mineralogy Division of the University of Toronto Museum, thus beginning her career in geology. She later completed her degree and, in 1907, was hired into a permanent position as a museum technician at the Geological Survey of Canada, which was headquartered at the Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa.

Wilson persisted through seven years of being denied time off to pursue a higher degree in geology. Eventually, the Canadian Federation of University Women awarded her a scholarship so that she could embark on graduate studies at the University of Chicago. She graduated in 1929 with a doctorate in geology.

At the GSC, Wilson could not participate in fieldwork that required living in camps with men in remote regions. Instead, Wilson created her own niche and did fieldwork at local sites in the Ottawa area. For the next fifty years she studied this area on foot, by bicycle and eventually by car. The GSC published the results of her fieldwork in 1946 and her Geology of the St. Lawrence Lowland, Ontario and Quebec was the first major geological publication about the area. In addition to a comprehensive discussion of its geology, Wilson covered the area's economic resources, including building stone, sand, gravel and drinking water.

From 1948 until 1958 Wilson was a lecturer in Paleontology at Carleton College (later Carleton University). Carleton recognized Wilson both as a geologist and as an inspiring teacher with an honorary degree in 1960. Wilson also worked to bring geology to a broader public. She wrote a children's book, The Earth Beneath our Feet, aimed at encouraging broader knowledge and interest in the science she was so passionate about.

Wilson became a respected member of the GSC and mentor to many young geologists. She retired at the age of 65, as was required by law. However, she kept her office at the GSC and continued her work until her death in 1964.

Wilson was the first woman geologist hired by the Geological Survey of Canada (1909), one of the first two women elected as Fellows of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (1930); the first Canadian woman to be admitted to the Geological Society of America (1936) and the first female Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1938).

In 1935, when the government of R.B. Bennett was looking to honour a woman in the federal civil service, Wilson was chosen to become a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

In 1991 the Royal Society of Canada established the Alice Wilson Awards for emerging women scholars. Wilson was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2005.

Source: Wikipedia