Friday, 31 March 2017

Women in Science - Katherine Goble Johnson

I've just been to see Hidden Figures, the film about Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all did outstanding work for NASA in the early days of space exploration.
Katherine Goble was the "computer" who calculated the trajectories of rockets. She worked on the early missions of Alan Shepherd and John Glenn, and on the Apollo 11 mission, right up to space shuttle flights in the 1980s. She's still alive at the age of 98, and has said of the film Hidden Figures: "It was well-done. The three leading ladies did an excellent job portraying us."
Along the way, she was one of the first African-Americans to attend graduate school at West Virginia University, and the first African-American woman to do so. The film points out the many difficulties of living in a segregated society - it wasn't easy for any of them, and they had to be extraordinarily determined to do what they wanted to do.
She had three daughters, Constance, Joylette and Katherine, and after her first husband died of a brain tumour, she married James Johnson - and they've been together ever since. They still live in Hampton, Virginia, near the NASA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory where she did her work.
On May 5, 2016, a new 40,000-square-foot building was named Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility and formally dedicated at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Katherine Johnson was there as guest of honour. It was the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepherd's flight, for which she had provided crucial calculations.

And here she is recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama:

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Tatiana Proskouriakoff

Tatiana Proskouriakoff was a Russian archaeologist whose speciality was Mayan culture. She was born in Tomsk in 1909, and her father was sent to the US in 1915 by Czar Nicholas II to oversee the production of munitions for the First World War. When the Revolution happened in 1917, the family were forced to stay in the USA, and Tatiana only visited Russia again once, to meet fellow Mayanist Yuri Knorozov.
Initially trained as an architect, she went to work for the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1936, on the Mayan site at Piedras Negras, between Mexico and Guatamala. Here she discovered the discipline which would become her life's work, and led to positions at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, and later Harvard University.
During the Second World War, she worked on the translation of Mayan heiroglyphs, making significant contributions to the field.
She became the honorary curator of Mayan art at the Peabody Museum on 1958, where she also taught a number of young women who went on to work in the field of Maya archaeology, and she died in 1985. She was buried at Piedras Negras, in Structure J-23, on Easter Sunday, 1998, where there is a plaque in her honour. Another plaque in her honour has been set up in her home town of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lady Gardeners

I found this picture on Twitter, shared by Kew Gardens. It's how the first young women who worked as gardeners at Kew dressed (so as not to "distract" anyone!) in 1896.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Local History I Never Knew

Occasionally, I read the blog Beamish Buildings, because one of the staff at Beamish is the daughter of a woman I went to school with. Just recently, Shannon has been researching Georgian hearse houses, which were built in churchyards, as they are building one at Beamish at the moment.
She's been looking at examples of surviving hearse houses across the North of England - and one of the best sources mentioned in the blog is at St Mary's, Prestwich.


I used to go to this church as a child - I went to the C of E Primary School, and we occasionally used the church for services. I remember a carol concert when I was in the choir - we were doing it by candlelight and torch in case (or possibly because) of a power cut. Graham Ward, from my class, sang the solo first verse of Once in Royal David's City from the back of the church, and it was so beautiful....
I also remember a service where I had been chosen to do a reading from the pulpit (I could only just see over the top). It hadn't occured to me to mention this honour to the rest of my family - my gran found out by accident, and came to stand in the back of the church to listen to me. I was so focussed on what I was doing, I never noticed her.
It's also the church usually used for filming when they need a church in Coronation Street!

So I remember the church, but I don't remember a hearse house!

It seems the local history of the area where I grew up was more interesting than I had imagined.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Dorothea Bate, Welsh Palaeontologist

Since it's close to St David's Day, I thought I'd choose a Welsh archaeologist this time. Dorothea Bate was born in Carmarthenshire, the daughter of a police superintendant.
In 1898, when she was nineteen, she went down to London and talked her way into a job at the Natural History Museum - and stayed there for fifty years. Her first job was sorting bird skins and later she prepared fossils, being paid piece work, by the number of fossils she prepared. She was learning all the time, and in 1901 she published her first scientific paper, "A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley", which appeared in the Geological Magazine.
She also visited Cyprus, first at her own expense and in 1902 with a small grant from the Royal Society, where she discovered the fossil bones of a new species of dwarf elephant, which she named elephas Cypriotes. She was able to do this with the help of a family connection on the island.
Later she visited other Mediterranean islands, making other discoveries of previously unknown prehistoric fauna. She was known for using dynomite to get at the fossil layers! Most of this work was financed from her own pocket, and she was unable to become a scientific member of staff with the museum, as this was forbidden to women until 1928.

The Coves dels Coloms in Majorca, where Dorothea Bate found the remains of Myotragus balearicus, the mouse goat

She became friendly with the archaeologists working at Knossos, including Sir Arthur Evans, while working in Crete, and in the 1920s worked with Professor Dorothy Garrod in Palestine. In 1937, they published The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, detailing the prehistoric fauna found there, including a hippopotomus.
In China, she worked with Percy Lowe on fossil ostriches - and she also found a fossil giant tortoise in Bethlehem!
She was consulted throughout her career by other archaeologists, including Louis Leakey, for her expertise in identifying fossil bones.
During the Second World War, she was transferred from London to Tring, where she eventually became officer-in-charge when she was nearly seventy. She died in 1951, and sadly, shortly after that, her personal papers were destroyed in a house fire. Her field notebooks, however, have been preserved at the Natural History Museum, including detailed maps of the islands where she worked.
Last year she was the subject of an episode of a Radio 4 series called Natural History Heroes (still available on iplayer), and there is also a book called Discovering Dorothea by Karolyn Shindler.