Science Service, Up Close: Summer Road Trips for Science, 1935

In 1935, Beloit College in Wisconsin began allowing female students to join the annual summer archeological expeditions.

Beloit College archeological expedition members. Jordan Jeptha Markham (1916-2001), Thomas G. Colema At first glance, the young people draped around a Dodge truck in 1935 might seem like a group packed for a vacation, perhaps to swim or fish or play tennis. Look more closely at the tools in the center. Science, not playtime, would be the goal of this road trip. Jordan Jeptha Markham (1916-2001), Thomas G. Coleman (1918-2007), Andrew Hunter Whiteford (1913-2006), Barbara Rivet (1914-1990), Shirley Webb Kretschmer (1914-2016), and John William Bennett (1915-2005) were heading on a research adventure. The five Beloit College undergraduates would be working on an archaeological dig in New Mexico. 

Every summer for the previous four years, Paul Homer Nesbitt (1904-1985), anthropology professor and head of Beloit College’s Logan Museum in Wisconsin, had led an expedition to the American Southwest. In 1935, the group would be excavating a pueblo in the Starkweather Ruin, located in New Mexico’s Apache National Forest. Because it was the first such Beloit expedition to include female students, the college publicized the occasion by mailing photographs of the young researchers to news services.

Today, of course, it is no longer “newsworthy” when women join (or lead) scientific expeditions. In 1935, however, several newspapers not only ran photographs of the two women, but also dubbed them “Co-ed Explorers,” who would “assemble the bits of pottery, skeletons and relics” while “the men” would do the digging. Barbara Rivet had, in fact, achieved her place on the expedition as one of the top three winners in the museum’s anthropology essay contest. And her Delta Gamma sorority sister Shirley Kretschmer was a Beloit anthropology major.

Kretschmer eventually continued her field studies at New Mexico’s Chaco and Starkweather Canyons and, in 1936, became one of the first women in the United States to earn a bachelor’s degree in archaeology/anthropology. She remained interested in the history and culture of Native Americans for the rest of her life. Both young women, however, made traditional choices in those pre-war years and married soon after graduation. Barbara Rivet married Guy Richard Shoemaker in September 1939, and Shirley Kretschmer married another Beloit College graduate, Ross M. Dick, in 1940.

Jordan Jeptha Markham, the son of a Congregational missionary and journalist, had spent much of his childhood in Europe, and his interests eventually turned toward the laboratory not fieldwork. He earned a Ph.D. at Brown University in 1947, became a theoretical condensed matter physicist, and taught for most of his career at Illinois Institute of Technology. The youngest male student in the 1935 expedition, Thomas G. Coleman of Madison, Wisconsin, graduated from Beloit in 1939 and, like so many young men of his generation, was soon drafted into the U.S. Army, returning home safely to Illinois, where he married and raised a family. Coleman, too, appears to have remained interested in science because he later invented a flip-top box for holding microscope slides.

Two of the students became professional anthropologists. Sophomore Andrew Hunter Whiteford had won first prize in the 1935 essay contest. After graduating from Beloit in 1937 and completing a year of graduate study at the University of Chicago, Whiteford left to work on a Tennessee Valley Authority-Works Projects Administration archaeological project. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago (1951) but, in the meantime, he had returned to Beloit College, serving from 1946 to 1976 as Curator of the Logan Museum, then Professor of Anthropology, and eventually as the museum’s director.

John William Bennett graduated from Beloit in 1937, and he, too, headed to the University of Chicago, where he earned M.A. (1942) and Ph.D. (1945) in anthropology. His career as an anthropologist took him to Ohio State University and Washington University, where he taught until the 1990s. Bennett served as president of both the Society for Applied Anthropology and American Ethnological Society.

For those Beloit students, it was a summer to remember. And we hope it will be the same with all the students working right now on archaeological digs, on collecting expeditions, or in laboratories, many connected to Smithsonian research around the world.

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