Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
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A Warmer Climate for Women in Antarctica

For the most part, however, women didn’t work on the Antarctic continent during the 1940s and early 1950s, though they did work around it. The International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957–1958 was a year-long cooperative international earth science research effort. Several hundred stations worldwide recorded data in atmospheric and geophysical sciences, with a special emphasis on Antarctica. This was a problem for most women scientists, as a majority of countries didn’t allow women to work on The Ice.

For American female scientists, the trip ashore was blocked by the U.S. Navy, which had established McMurdo Station, the main American base in Antarctica, as a military outpost in 1956. The Navy refused to transport women onto the continent. And even if they could get there, women faced another obstacle. The National Science Foundation (NSF), which today coordinates almost all U.S. scientific research in Antarctica through the United States Antarctic Program, wouldn’t allow women to work on The Ice either. As a result, American women scientists had to rely on their male colleagues and students to set up instruments and collect data and samples.

Photo: firs women at the South Pole
U.S. Navy Photo  
November, 1969 - the first American women visit the South Pole.  

It wasn’t until the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 1970s that misconceptions about women began to melt away in the Western world. In the United States in 1969, the Navy lifted its ban, and officials at the NSF began inviting female scientists to submit research proposals. Finally, during the 1969-1970 season, the first women were included in the United States Antarctic Program. Christine Muller-Schwarze, a Ph.D. psychologist from Utah State University, became the first woman to work with the U.S. Antarctic Research Program, studying penguin behavior in Antarctica along with her scientist husband.

Once the door had opened, many women came to work in Antarctica, including several Americans. Shortly after Muller-Schwarze, Lois Jones, a geochemist at Ohio State University, arrived to head a four-woman team of researchers to study, among other topics, the mystery of salty lakes fed by freshwater glaciers in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys.


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