Blog

International Women's Day, March 8

By: Vanessa Finney, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 07 Mar 2014

Celebrating women's role and achievements in science and museums -- with a special warning for women 'approaching their fiftieth year'.

Conchological staff of the Australian Museum

 © Courtesy of the Australian Museum

Here's a classic memo from our files: in 1929 Senior Officers at the CSIRO met and decided that there were 'already enough women' in the Entomology Division.

Notes from the meeting record that the following points were emphasised -

'1. Women frequently left the service to get married, just when they were becoming most useful and thus the heavy outlay on training them was to a large extent wasted.

2. If a woman stayed on, it often happened that she lost instead of gained in power and ability as she approached her fiftieth year.

3. Once a woman became a Senior, men are extremely unwilling to serve under her as a Junior, and so there is a danger of that Section passing for all time under the domination of women. A case in point was quoted in a scientific insitution which had resulted in the permanent weakening of a whole Division in this manner.

4. Though there were occassional exceptional women who could be sent into the field alone to work, or to accompany a Senior man in the field, generally such proceedings were undesirable.'

I'm certain we would have the same sort of memo in our own records -- though we definitely didn't have the same problem of too many female staff at the Australian Museum in the 1920s. Though women worked at the Museum almost from its opening (as cleaners, clerks, volunteers and contract taxidermists and artists), we didn't appoint a female professional staff member at the Australian Museum until Joyce Allan was appointed to the Mollusc Department in 1917. Our second female researcher, anthropologist Elsie Brammel, was not appointed until 1933. In 1940 she was forced to resign when she married colleague Fred McCarthy.