Lea collection of precious stones. Miss Margaret W. Moodey in charge. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-H234- A-5445.

Miss Margaret W. Moodey in Charge

One of the earliest women in science at the Smithsonian, Margaret Moodey, helped identify and catalogue major collections in the Department of Geology, and as one enigmatically-named photograph suggests, she was “in charge.”

For forty years, from around 1900 to 1941, Margaret W. Moodey (1862-1948) worked as a scientific aide in the Department of Geology at the United States National Museum. Her colleagues came to value her experience identifying, classifying, and cataloging geological specimens, which over the years, included gems and precious stones, fossil vertebrates and plants, and echinoderms. 

A woman and a man work at a table standing next to a collection of mineral specimens.

In fact, Moodey catalogued and published resources related to collections that would become foundational to the United States National Museum and, later, the National Museum of Natural History. Her publication record is particularly helpful in piecing together her career, because we don’t have a collection of Moodey’s personal papers to peruse, and we don’t have extensive institutional records that tell us about Moodey’s work. Of course, we do have Smithsonian annual reports, departmental records, as well as her boss’ papers to consult. While those records will tell us something about Moodey, they won’t tell us nearly enough to paint a full picture.

So right now (especially while working from home), I am thankful for Moodey’s relatively extensive publication record. It’s precisely because Moodey was involved in publishing collections catalogues and bibliographic indices that we can track her career—and add her to the Funk List, which identifies and describes the work of women in science at the Smithsonian.

A group of five women stand around an elderly woman holding a bouquet of flowers who is retiring.

To trace the arc of Moodey’s career through her publications, take a look at the following resources. Notice how she is initially only cited in the text, then listed as an assisting author, and finally recognized as a full coauthor. These publications also offer further insight into the types of collections that Moodey identified and catalogued in the geology department.

As her publications demonstrate, Moodey took on more responsibility in her work over time. In the future, I hope to take a look at records in the Archives that might shed more light on whether or not Moodey’s title ever changed to match her career accomplishments. And if not, I want to understand the full scope of her work, so we can make sure she is recognized for her major contributions today.

A woman sitting at a table looks at diamond-bearing rocks under a microscope.

This curiously titled photo says it all: “Lea collection of precious stones. Miss Margaret W. Moodey in charge.” According to the Library of Congress, that title comes from an unverified caption date on the photo negative or the negative sleeve. It likely refers to Moodey’s taking charge of the gems collection at the United States National Museum, especially the Lea collection referenced in the photograph. 

Truly, that caption sounds exactly right to me.  

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