Women in Cartography

For those of you who remember my Women in Geography post, this one is like that.  I decided to write this not only because this is the week of Esri’s User Conference where cartographers among other GIS enthusiasts will be but also because some may not realize the contributions female cartographers have made over the years.  So here is my tribute to the women in cartography.

As one would expect, it’s hard to find information on historical female cartographers.  What kept popping up during my search was the book Map Worlds: A History of Women in Cartography by Will C. Van Den Hoonaard.  This book talks about women in cartography from what is called the golden age of map-making  during the 16th and 17th centuries when map-making was a family business.  The women worked as engravers, colorists, and stitched the leaves of a map into a book.  Women who actually mapped or made maps though was something that didn’t seem to happen until the 19th century.

Map of Norway by Kristine Colban.  Image from nationalgeographic.com

Map of Norway by Kristine Colban. Image from nationalgeographic.com

Hoonaard mentions Shanawdithit, who was the last member of an indigenous Newfoundland tribe called Beothuk.  Her maps show migration movements of her people and what the settlers did to them.  Thus her maps could be classified as maps of history, culture and emotion (in this case unfortunately, pain and suffering).

Florence Kelley, mapped slum conditions, looking at the connections between immigration and poverty.  Her maps helped to show the need for action and changes.  Her reports along with the maps are more commonly known as the Hull House Maps and Papers.

Photo of Florence Kelley. Image from en.wikipedia.org

Photo of Florence Kelley. Image from en.wikipedia.org

Two of the perhaps more well-known female cartographers are Phyllis Pearsall and Marie Tharp.  The former created the London A-Z maps, which were maps she created by claiming to walk 18 hours a day with a draftsman for a year.  Her desire to do this came about when she got lost due to an inadequate map she had at the time.  No one wanted to publish her maps though and she had to self-publish 10,000 copies.  There is also a book about just her (vs Map Worlds) called Mrs. P’s Journey by Sarah Hartley.

Marie Tharp worked at Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University back in the 1950s.  While others gathered got echo soundings from the Atlantic Ocean, Tharp took this data and plotted it on maps.  She later noticed a pattern in the data and concluded that it showed a rift along the ocean floor.  Thus providing evidence for the continental drift theory, but since this theory was not accepted at the time, Tharp’s male colleague, according to Map Worlds, considered Tharp’s idea just “girl talk”.  Eventually the colleague realized that she was right and they then worked together but with his name first on published works.  Like Pearsall, there is a book on just Tharp called Soundings by Hali Felt.

Photo of Marie Tharp.  Image from womensenews.org

Photo of Marie Tharp. Image from womensenews.org

Female cartographers have not only mapped the depths of the ocean but also the moon.  Russian cartographer Kira B. Shingareva, mapped the dark side of the moon in 1965 along with other planets, such as Mars, Phobos, and Venus.  The map produced was not the best due to the quality of images used during the process, but it was still a very exciting and noteworthy event.

Photo of Kira B. Shingareva.  Image from icaci.org

Photo of Kira B. Shingareva. Image from icaci.org

While female cartographers have certainly increased today, there are still fewer female cartographers than male with Hoonaard saying about 20-33 percent, depending on the country/area.  So if you know a young girl or woman who loves, science, math and maps, then I’d say she should look into cartography.  Who knows what they could discover?


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