1.2 A Passion for Clouds Part II: Joanne Simpson and Women in Meteorology

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 10:45 AM
Conference Center: Yakima 2 (Washington State Convention Center )
Maya R. Meltsner, Colby College, Waterville, ME

Joanne Gerould Simpson (1923-2010) worked her way from being the first American woman to earn a PhD in meteorology to being one of the most legendary figures in the field.  This presentation will explore the factors that contributed to Simpson’s success as well as the obstacles that hindered her along the way. 

She was born to a blue-blooded Cambridge, Massachusetts family and spent her childhood enjoying summers at the beach and an excellent private school education.  However, after the birth of her brother Daniel when Joanne was five years old, her life shifted as she realized that she was the less favored child in her mother’s eyes.  On one occasion, Joanne asked her mother why she liked her brother better, and her mother replied “You have to be lovable to be loved.”  These stinging words stayed with Joanne for the rest of her life.

Joanne decided to attend college at the University of Chicago, a departure from her family’s history with the all women’s Radcliffe College.  She began in the fall of 1940.  As World War II brewed abroad and in the United States, Carl-Gustaf Rossby, who worked at Chicago, recruited Joanne to train aviation cadets for the war effort, Joanne’s first serious introduction to the world of meteorology.  Although she excelled in her work, when the war came to an end and Joanne wished to continue her studies, she found little to no support from her male colleagues.  Undaunted, Joanne managed to scrape together the funds and complete the necessary coursework to earn her PhD in 1949. 

Her career, which included time at Woods Hole, NOAA, UCLA, the University of Virginia, and NASA, was often rocked by personal upheavals and sexist setbacks, none of which overcame her.  She was married three times, raised three children, and battled migraines and moderate to severe depression.

Joanne Simpson served as a role model for other scientists, male and female, and currently about 35% of meteorologists are women.  Simpson’s career spanned many social and political eras, and she, like other female scientists, faced both the challenges and benefits associated with these shifting attitudes towards working women and scientists.  This presentation will contextualize Joanne’s work with her personal life.

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