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Looking Above the Ears

September 1, 2014

Looking Above the Ears

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Madeleine Thompson Madeleine Thompson

When renowned naturalist William Beebe added Gloria Hollister and Jocelyn Crane to his expedition research staff nearly a century ago, his decision to employ two female scientists was considered novel enough that it required some justification. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s founding Director of the Department of Tropical Research (DTR) went out of his way to acknowledge that he didn’t care whether they were men or women. What mattered most in a researcher, said Beebe, is  “what is above the ears.”

Hollister arrived in 1928 with a master’s in zoology and three years’ experience in cancer research at Rockefeller University. Crane, who joined in 1930 after earning her bachelor’s in zoology, had already published in the prestigious Journal of Mammalogy. Yet despite their qualifications — which paralleled those of their male colleagues — some media focused more on the women’s sex than their science.

The same 1932 article that printed Beebe’s praise for “what is above the ears” couldn’t help noting that “both young women have sleek permanent waves above the ears, incidentally, and complete and very feminine wardrobes, including formal dresses for parties at the Governor’s House in Bermuda.”

In spite of the attention to their physical appearance and the fact that the vast majority of their colleagues were men, Hollister and Crane forged significant scientific careers. Both researchers made names for themselves in the field of marine ecology and expanded their scientific work to include terrestrial settings as well.

Gloria Hollister (standing), William Beebe, and Jocelyn Crane can be seen here in the field observing a partial eclipse on Bermuda’s Nonsuch Island, September 1932.

Nonsuch Island, Bermuda Map It


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November 18, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Your (hi)story about Beebe, Hollister, and Crane made me smile. So did the photo.

I rarely “meet” the people who have been instrumental in fostering development of the zoo. I usually read about them. Your research and writing style helped me meet them. Thanks.

When most people talk about a zoo, they list their favorite animal(s). I want to know about the human species behind it all, as well. You did that.

I chuckled over society’s difficulty in envisioning women in the field, and how Beebe tried to cure them. What stamina each of them evidenced!

    Madeleine Thompson
    December 4, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks for your lovely comments, Annette. WCS has so many terrific stories, and it’s been great to have the opportunity to share some of them here. I too am inspired by Jocelyn Crane and Gloria Hollister. They worked hard to do the work they loved to do.