For a little more than a year, a hundred biographies of women geographers have been written on the francophone Wikipedia. Started by two female geographers, the group has since grown to include nine people. All of them are geographers and take their time to voluntarily put forward the work of women colleagues from the past and present, in France and abroad. Here is a a journey through the lives of several women pioneers in the field and the strategies they developped to be recognized in their scientific field in academia.
1901 : first PhD in geography obtained by a a woman
The Wikipedia biography of Martha Krug-Genthe (1871-1945) as of today exists only in one language of Wikipedia, French, thanks to the work of the group of women geographers of the sans pagEs. She was the first woman to obtain a PhD in geography in the world in 1901! Her research focused on ocean currents, such as the famous Gulf stream. She was a woman « prevented » from developing her career, in Germany, her native country, and in the United States where she emigrated. A difficulty that pushed her to commit herself to the cause of women.
Gerd Wormdal (1930-1985) encountered the same issues in Norway, where she was one of the few women to complete higher education. Her researches are about limnology, that is to say the study of several lakes of the west of her country. She is though mostly knowned for her commitment to women’s rights that she is known, up to the UN General Assembly.
1913: First PhD in natural sciences in Poland and France for a women
The same fight for women’s rights and recognition guided the whole life of Regina Fleszarowa (1888-1969) who was the co-founder of the Polish Women’s League. One would almost forget that this geographer, geologist and cartographer, the first woman in Poland in 1913 to obtain a PhD in natural sciences, is the author of a hundred publications, including five reference volumes on the history of earth sciences in her country.
Germaine Veyret-Verner (1913-1973) was one of the first women to obtain a PhD in geography in France and the second woman university professor in France. Her research field, the Alps, allowed her to study the massif from the angle of regional geography, then population, tourism and finally cities.
Exploring new themes as a strategy for career recognition
As they were not always accepted in the historical specialties of men, many women geographers chose the path of innovation to get recognition in their careers by exploring new themes, new methods or new fields.
Gerd Enequist (1903-1989) is known as the modernizer of Swedish geography. She became the first woman professor of geography at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 1949. She introduced social geography and thanks to her cartographic talents, actively participated in the first atlas of her country… among other achievements.
Julie Moschelesová (1892-1956) developed human geography in Czechoslovakia and obtained international recognition despite the adversity she suffered during the two world wars. Her rich scientific career places her among the ten geographers who founded geography as a science.
Mary Kingdon Heslop became in he first female lecturer in geography at the University of Leeds in 1920. She developped a pioneering research interest in commercial geography because of the lack of opportunities in geology : this very masculine environment was closed to her.
Jane Soons, one of the first female geography lecturers in Glasgow, moved to New Zealand, fleeing gender discrimination. Her many contributions to the geography of her adopted country have greatly enriched the methods of geomorphology.
First female PhDs in geography
These « women pioneers » in geography in each country are gradually earning recognition on Wikipedia. And thanks to this exploration, we can now read them in French. It’s up to you to discover them!