Saturday, February 12, 2022

Louisville's First Female Geologist?

Recently, I ordered the two volume set Geology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 1865-1965 by Robert Rakes Shrock (1904-1993). The first volume was published in 1977 and the second 1982. Unfortunately, the research material I was looking for was absent in these books. Something did catch my interest in volume 2 was in chapter 13 Women in Geology at MIT pages 395-442. 

The first female graduate profiled was Dixie Lee Bryant (1862-1949) born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 7, 1862. She has the distinction of being the first student to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology from MIT in June 1891 with honors. Her theses was "A study of the most recent history of the tide water region of Charles River [Boston area]". The above picture is her 1891 school picture when she was at MIT. It has been colorized and visually adjusted with Photoshop Colorize and Smart Portrait neural filters.

While born in Louisville, her family moved in 1868 to Columbia, Tennessee while she was a young child. Dixie was  student at Columbia Female Institution for 10 years. Afterwards she taught a year at a school in Culleska, Tennessee and another year as a 1st grade teacher at public school at Columbia, Tennessee. Next she moved to Lexington, Kentucky and taught at Hamilton College for several years.

In 1887, Joy Scholarship was awarded to Bryant so she could attend MIT in 1887. The Joy Scholarship came about " the gift of Nabby Joy and created pursuant to a decree of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts for the benefit of 'one or more women studying natural science at M.I.T.'" 

After graduating she taught at the State Normal School at Plymouth, New Hampshire. In October 1892, the North Carolina Normal and Industrial School (later name Woman's College of the University of North Carolina [Greensboro]) was created and Dixie Bryant joined this new faculty where she created laboratories in biology, chemistry, and physics. After teaching from 1892-1901, she left to start graduate studies at Madison, Wisconsin with Charles R. Van Hise (petrography). From there she left to continue studies at University of Heidelberg with Rosenbush (microscopical petrography) and finished her studies at Erlangen University in Bavaria. On June 30, 1904 she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Magna Cum Laude) in Mineralogy. Her thesis was "The Petrography of Spitzbergen".

After getting this advanced degree, Dr. Bryant moved to Chicago, Illinois and taught for 27 years in high schools there. She retired in 1931 and lived in Asheville, North Carolina until her death on November 18, 1949. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

After her death, American Association of University Women (AAUW) created the Dixie Lee Bryant Fellowship in 1950. Later University of North Carolina at Greensboro (previous name State Normal) established the Dixie Lee Bryant STAMPS (Science, Technology, and Math Preparation) scholarship. In 2021, MIT honored Dixie Bryant by naming a 400 seat auditorium the Dixie Lee Bryant Lecture Hall in the Cecil and Ida Green Building.

Learn more: 

Dixie Lee Bryant scrapbook at UNC Greensboro (picture source)