Title

Mary Cynthia Dickerson: A Forgotten Female Herpetologist

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Campus where you would like to present

Ellensburg

Event Website

https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/source

Start Date

18-5-2020

Abstract

Mary Cynthia Dickerson (1866-1923), the first female curator at the American Museum of Natural History, founded the museum’s Herpetology Department (reptiles and amphibians). She was highly regarded as a herpetologist at a time when most scientists were men. She discovered over twenty new reptile species and four species/subspecies were named after her. She pioneered new ways to preserve reptiles to create more life-like exhibits. In 1906, she published The Frog Book: North American Toads and Frogs with a Study of the Habits and Life Histories of Those of the Northeastern States, describing the life history (reproduction, social behavior, life cycle, etc.) of all of the known toads and frogs in the Northeastern states at the time of the publication, about 58 species. She included 290 of her own photographs which made the book popular with the public. Despite these accomplishments, Dickerson is virtually unknown to both scientists and the public today. My research has shown that it is likely due to her male colleagues that her work is not well documented in history. They blamed Dickerson’s developing mental illness on her overly ambitious workload. Many men in this time period did not believe women were capable, authoritative, or intelligent enough to be placed in leadership positions. As a woman, Dickerson did not even have the right to vote until three years before she died. My research not only showcases Dickerson’s remarkable scientific accomplishments but also celebrates a female scientist who has been unjustly forgotten due to her gender.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Tamara Caulkins

Department/Program

Biological Sciences

Additional Mentoring Department

https://cwu.studentopportunitycenter.com/2020/04/mary-cynthia-dickerson-a-forgotten-female-herpetologist/

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May 18th, 12:00 PM

Mary Cynthia Dickerson: A Forgotten Female Herpetologist

Ellensburg

Mary Cynthia Dickerson (1866-1923), the first female curator at the American Museum of Natural History, founded the museum’s Herpetology Department (reptiles and amphibians). She was highly regarded as a herpetologist at a time when most scientists were men. She discovered over twenty new reptile species and four species/subspecies were named after her. She pioneered new ways to preserve reptiles to create more life-like exhibits. In 1906, she published The Frog Book: North American Toads and Frogs with a Study of the Habits and Life Histories of Those of the Northeastern States, describing the life history (reproduction, social behavior, life cycle, etc.) of all of the known toads and frogs in the Northeastern states at the time of the publication, about 58 species. She included 290 of her own photographs which made the book popular with the public. Despite these accomplishments, Dickerson is virtually unknown to both scientists and the public today. My research has shown that it is likely due to her male colleagues that her work is not well documented in history. They blamed Dickerson’s developing mental illness on her overly ambitious workload. Many men in this time period did not believe women were capable, authoritative, or intelligent enough to be placed in leadership positions. As a woman, Dickerson did not even have the right to vote until three years before she died. My research not only showcases Dickerson’s remarkable scientific accomplishments but also celebrates a female scientist who has been unjustly forgotten due to her gender.

https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/source/2020/COTS/12