From the archives: Alice Wilson (Herstory 1974)


Photo via the website Inspirational Men & Women.

Alice Wilson started work for the Geological Survey of Canada as a clerk in 1909, and she was determined to become a geologist. But it took her 36 long, struggling years to be recognized as such.

In the field, people remember, she was always first: the first to spot a wild flower, a high flying bird, the fathering storm, always the first over a farmer’s fence. Of course she was first; she had to be. She must show them that being a woman made no difference to being a good geologist, even if, when she got home, she couldn’t eat for exhaustion.

She started doing field work in 1913 but the survey, wanting to keep her in her ‘place,’ wouldn’t give her a car for field work; “when they were being issued to all the men, they gave her a bicycle.” Undaunted, she bought her own car, strapped the bicycle to the side and “drove off down the Ottawa valley.”

After asking for educational leave from the Survey for 10 years without success, she was finally given permission to compete for a fellowship. She won, and at the age of 45 went to Chicago to work for her doctorate, which she received in 1929. The Survey, however, did not see fit to make her a full geologist until after the war, one year before she retired in 1946.

She continued working, however, until she died at the age of 83. In 1947 she published a book on geology for young people called The Earth Beneath Our Feet. And in 1948 she became a sessional lecturer at Carleton College where she enjoyed teaching and was well-loved.

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The official blog for Herstory: The Canadian Women's Calendar. An annual publication that celebrates notable Canadian women, Herstory is produced by the Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective (SWCC) and published by Coteau Books. Visit our website at
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