Sunday, June 11, 2017

SRPS Women in STEM: Mary Jane Rathbun - carcinologist

Mary J. Rathbun (June 11, 1860 – April 14, 1943) was a zoologist who worked at the Smithsonian Institution for nearly 60 years studying crustaceans. Over the course of her career she described more than a thousand new species and subspecies, and wrote or co-wrote 166 papers.

Mary Rathbun was born in Buffalo, New York, where she excelled in school. Unfortunately there weren't many options of attending college for women, so she pursued her own interests after graduation. In 1881, her brother took a position with zoologist Addison Emery Verrill, and Mary tagged along with him on a working trip to the ocean. This was her first time seeing the sea, and she was hooked. She spent the next three years volunteering to help label, sort and record specimens.

Her efficient and diligent work brought her to the attention of Smithsonian curator Spencer Fullerton Baird, who offered her a clerkship position. She remained with the Smithsonian Institute for nearly 60 years, working almost exclusively with crustaceans. In 1891 her first paper was published. During her time at the Smithsonian, she wrote or co-wrote 166 papers, describing 1147 new species and subspecies of crustaceans.

Although she was not able to attend college, because of her achievements during her remarkable career she was granted an honorary master's degree by the University of Pittsburgh in 1916, and in 1917 she qualified for a Ph.D. at George Washington University.

You can read more about her life and work on the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History blog post.

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