155th Anniversary of a Botany Professor

Google.ca Search Image for January 14, 2017 - geneticist/botanist Carrie Derick

Google.ca Doodle for January 14, 2017 – geneticist/botanist Carrie Derick

Just a short post today, and though it’s about genetics and botany, bees (my usual blog subject) are mentioned only indirectly.  It’s the 155th anniversary of the birth of Carrie Derick – one of the world’s first geneticists. Derick was the first female professor in a Canadian university and the founder of McGill University’s renowned genetics department. I wouldn’t know any of this, except Google.ca used the image above as today’s search doodle.

derick-book-coverMs Derick was born January 14, 1862, in rural Quebec and studied at McGill and Bonn University. In her era, women had just been granted the right to a university education. She was 50 in 1912 when she finally was recognized as a professor at her university, though she’d been working as one for twenty years. By then, her research had earned her recognition as a scientist. She is known for her book Notes on the Development of the Holdfasts of Certain Florideae, written when she was 37, which was among the first studies of the effects of “light, temperature, or the density of the surrounding medium, and in adaptation to vegetative reproduction” on botanical growth and reproduction.

c-derickCarrie Derick was teaching school in her hometown at age 15. She moved to Montreal to continue teaching and (in 1887) to enter McGill University (three years after women were first allowed to enroll).  She skipped first year, jumping directly into her second year of studies which she completed with a 94% average, the top mark at the university that year. She began teaching (demonstrating, they called it, as McGill’s first female botany instructor). It was 30 years before she became a professor.

Derick earned her PhD at Bonn University (1901-1905), completing her course work and thesis, but was granted neither the title Doctor nor the PhD she’d earned. Such degrees were not granted to women at that school at that time. She returned to McGill in Montreal, taught botany and genetics, and ran the new genetics department. In her fifties, still not recognized as a professor, she wrote to the university’s principal for her overdue promotion. She was granted professorship in 1912 – at a pay one-third of what her male colleagues were given. She continued to run her department and work as a professor until her retirement, 17 years later.

As a direct result of Derick’s pioneering work, women scientists are almost as numerous as males today – and almost paid as well, too. In our own area of interest, the fortitude and courage of Carrie Derick helped us receive the enormous contributions of the women of entomology who followed – including Eva Crane, Martha Spivak, Tammy Horn, Meghan Milbrath, Christina GrozingerGloria D Degrandi-Hoffman, Cath Keay, Susan Cobey, Michelle Flenniken, Diana Sammataro,  and a hundred others.   A huge amount of what we know about bees (and how we care for them) would be missing without the contributions of these and many other women who chose to enter the world of the honey bee.

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