Worksheet 3: Biography Eloise Gerry

Eloise Gerry was born January 12, 1885 in Boston , Massachusetts . In June of 1910, at the age of 25, she became the first female scientist hired by the USDA Forest Service. She was hired to work in the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to prepare microscope slides and photomicrographs for wood anatomical studies. Photomicrographs are photographs made of something seen through a microscope. Gerry had both a bachelors and masters degrees from Harvard University ‘s Radcliffe College for women and was hired because of her experience in wood anatomy and her specific training in the preparation of wood specimens and photomicrographs. She later obtained her PhD from University of Wisconsin in 1921. In her personal notes, Gerry states, “I must admit the Forest Service did not want a woman, but as it happened there wasn’t any man willing to come and do the work.” Her statement reflects some of the politics at the time, for in 1910 women did not even have the right to vote. In fact Gerry was hired by the US Forest Service a decade before women would gain the right to vote. Gerry recognized her role as a pioneer for female scientist in the U.S.

When Gerry was hired in 1910 the Forest Products Lab did not have a wood collection nor did it have much equipment for wood anatomy research. In the summer of 1910, the University of Wisconsin provided a microscope and research room in the Science Hall for Gerry. Then, before Gerry could begin her research, she needed wood samples, so her first job was collecting woods of the United States . At first most of the samples she collected came from expositions and fairs. Then in 1916 Gerry moved to Columbia , Mississippi , to apply her knowledge to naval stores research. This became one of her most lasting contributions to her research field. Gerry’s studies of southern pines and the production of turpentine at her field-based research site in Mississippi helped her develop the program of “More turpentine, less scar, better pine.” Many later credited this program to saving the struggling naval stores industry.

Image 1: Eloise Gerry sometime in the early 1950s, near the end of her career, probably in her office at the Forest Products Lab. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory.)

Eloise Gerry was a research scientist at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison from 1910 to 1954, during which time it was not socially acceptable for woman to work outside the home. She focused on the microscopic study of growing trees and became an expert in southern pines, turpentine techniques, and foreign woods and their properties. Dr. Eloise Gerry proved to be an exceptional scientist, a devoted Forest Service employee, and a person determined to contribute greatly to society. She applied her expertise in a variety of directions:improving methods to produce military supplies for World Wars I & II, writing stories for children, publishing more than 120 articles in various journals, and in creating a fellowship program, through her membership in “Graduate Woman in Science,” for female graduate students of chemistry or biology. Eloise Gerry died in 1970 at the age of 85. At that time a longtime friend and former lab colleague, Benson Paul, said “She has given of herself not only in scientific fields but in the world about her with the generous impulses of a warm heart. Evidently, she has made a life pattern from the living forest that gives and gives yet seeks nothing in return. In performance of task, it is not her habit merely to DO, but always to DO MORE than is normally required or expected.”