Women's History in the Collections
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Gilboa Devonian Forest Exhibit
Winifred Goldring (1888-1971) is best known for being appointed the first female State Paleontologist of New York, and for her pioneer work on the Gilboa fossil flora.
Born in Kenwood, near Albany, New York, Winifred was one of nine children of Frederick and Mary Goldring. Frederick, trained as a specialist in orchids at Kew Gardens, emigrated to the United States (Albany) in 1879 and took charge of orchid growing on the estate of Erastus Corning. It was here that he met Mary Grey, a teacher and daughter of the estate's head gardener; they married in 1881. The Goldrings left Kenwood in 1890 and established a thriving greenhouse business in the Albany suburb of Slingerlands, New York.
Winifred was an excellent student. In 1905 she graduated as valedictorian from one of Albany's best high schools - the Milne School - and enrolled in Wellesley College with an intended major in classical languages. She became intensely interested in geology at Wellesley and changed her major, attaining an A.B. (with honors) in 1909. After receiving an A.M. in 1912, she remained at Wellesley as a geology instructor and as a teaching assistant in Boston's Teacher's School of Science. During the summer of 1913 she also studied at Columbia University with the eminent geologist Amadeus Grabau.
1914 saw Goldring's return to Albany when she acccepted a position as Scientific Expert at the New York State Museum. Her duties in this capacity were focused on developing exhibits for the museum's Hall of Invertebrates. In 1915 she was promoted to Assistant Paleontologist; it was during this interval that she began her massive work on the Devonian crinoids of New York (NYSM Memoir 16).
The names "Gilboa" and "Goldring" have always been inextricably linked. As plant fossils - primarily in the form of tree stumps - began to be revealed in excavations for the Gilboa dam and reservoir in Schoharie County, New York in the early 1920s, Goldring was assigned to scientifically describe and illustrate them. Her inherent knowledge of botany, along with graduate courses taken at Johns Hopkins University in 1921, made her uniquely qualified for this work. Publication of her report on the Gilboa fossil forest in 1924 (NYSM Bulletin, no. 251) brought this spectacular site to the attention of the world and established Goldring as an important Devonian researcher. The subsequent development of an innovative exhibit based on the Gilboa fossils brought further distinction to both Goldring and the New York State Museum.
After having served as Assistant Paleontologist (1915-20), Associate Paleontologist (1920-25;1928-32), Paleobotanist (1925-28), Assistant State Paleontologist (1932-38), and Provisional State Paleontologist (1938-39), Winifred Goldring was appointed State Paleontologist in 1939. While there were other successful female geologists/paleontologists working in the United States during her lifetime, e.g., Florence Bascom (1862-1945) and Julia Gardner (1882-1960), Goldring's 1939 appointment as State Paleontologist was a first for women in the nation and in the world. She also served as president of the Paleontological Society (1949) and vice president of the Geological Society of America (1950).
After her retirement in 1954, Winifred Goldring's life assumed a much different shape. Formerly, her work was her life. Retirement allowed her to focus on other interests - crocheting, reading, music, and long, long walks.
Contributed by: Linda Hernick
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