Women in Paleontology: Annie Montague Alexander (1867–1950)
Annie Montague Alexander was a 19th century paleontologist from the United States who established the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkerly.
Two of California’s most important museums were started (and funded) by a woman.
Born in 1867, Annie Montague Alexander was fascinated by the natural world - so when she started attending Dr. John C. Merriam’s paleontology lectures at the University of California, she offered to finance his expeditions and thus guaranteed herself a spot on his field team.
By all accounts Alexander was excellent in the field, making dozens of discoveries even while she was tasked with cooking and cleaning for her colleagues. She dearly loved fossil hunting, saying “..it is strange how absorbing this work is. We forget the outside world.”
When she proposed that a natural history museum be started on a University of California campus, she again put her money where her mouth was and bankrolled the initiative. With her backing, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology was founded in 1909, with the Museum of Paleontology following in 1930. Not only did Alexander provide financial support for both museums, but she was absolutely crucial in directing their leadership, and both museums have specimens from her expeditions in their collections. Her life after establishing the museums was no less exciting than what had come before - along with Louise Kellogg, her partner of forty-two years, she ran a successful farm and continued excavating well into her 80s.
Alexander left a great legacy behind her when passed away in 1950; in addition to “her” museums, seventeen species of plants and animals, both extinct and extant, currently bear her name.
Sources and Further Reading:
Annie Montague Alexander: Explorer, Naturalist, Philanthropist. 1994. Rianna M. Williams.
On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West. 2001. Barbara R. Stein.
Brittney Elizabeth Stoneburg
Brittney Elizabeth Stoneburg is a science communicator and paleontologist who works as the Marketing & Events Specialist for the Western Science Center, a natural history museum in Southern California. She uses her background in the humanities and later in life career change to make science more accessible for adults.
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