International Women’s day is March 8 and March is Women’s History Month – What Role Have Women Played in the History of Mapmaking?
Many women’s organizations and governments around the world observe International Women’s Day annually on March 8th. The United States designates the whole month of March as Women’s History Month. The role of women in the history of mapmaking reminds us to celebrate the accomplishments of women and girls throughout history, and the need to keep working to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life, all over the map.
Judith Tyner, Professor Emerita of Geography, California State University, Long Beach, has researched and shared a lot of the history of women in cartography. She says that Women have played many roles in the history of cartography. There are the usual assumptions, marginal activities, traditional woman’s roles of piece work that could be done at home: coloring maps, map folding, and stitching atlases. In the 19th century, women taught geography, maps, and “the use of the globes” to privileged young ladies. The usual way that women would become involved in mapmaking business, was through family. The map trades, printing, and engraving have traditionally been family businesses.
But when you examine maps for the names of engravers, publishers and printers, you discover that women have been involved in cartography from the early days of mapping. Women were publishers, map sellers, cartographers, drafters, editors, engravers, globemakers, printers, colorists, folders, stitchers, teachers of map reading and mapmaking, cartographic historians, map librarians, and patrons of cartography!
“By the beginning of the twentieth century, the identities of cartographers and map traders had become even more obscure. Large cartographic firms such as Rand McNally and Hammond formed and began using wax engraving and lithography techniques; map engravers and compilers no longer signed their maps. As companies grew, few retained records… Over time old records were destroyed in the name of efficiency.”
This fits with what I have recently learned about Williams & Heintz, from my cousin Jeanette Schuder, about my Great Aunt Ruth, Born Ruth Lillian Heintz (1913 – 2011)
“Her father co-owned the William and Heintz Company, a lithographic business in DC. She worked for her dad’s company as a topographical engineer and she drew maps of Bakersfield, California and other new cities. She also worked for the Geological Survey and drew the original maps of the unmapped territory of the Yukon.”
Ruth was married August 22, 1936, so I figure that her work as a mapmaker was in the early 1930s. A quick google search for “Bakersfield CA map 1930s” yields these maps, from the University of Texas Libraries, that may be some of the maps that she worked on.
Even before the second World War, women were encouraged to work as cartographers and cartographic drafters. During the war, they were hired to replace the men, due to the wartime demand for maps. Government agencies in the U. S. were hiring women because they recognized that our maps were out of date and had insufficient coverage. Women were preferred for drafting, computing and photogrametry. Collections were scattered. Map librarians played an important role in the collection and distribution of maps for the war effort.
Women did not give up cartography after the war. They were successful, and continued to take advantage of trainings at universities, and job opportunities. Marie Tharp was encouraged to study geology and drafting, she made important contributions to mapping. You can read about them in Honoring Marie Tharp, Oceanographic Cartographer, for International Women’s Day
Today, women work in all aspects of the mapping industry, from GIS to map printing. Since World War II, we have seen the greatest rise in the number of women involved in the field. However, continued vigilance and action is still necessary to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained.
Mary Beth Smith, of “Girls Who Print” said, in response to an example of blatant discrimination in the work place today,
” Lets work together. Let the ignorant know that their behavior is neither admired nor tolerated. Show your spouses, your daughters, your sons, and everyone in your orbit your conviction that this is unacceptable behavior. Isn’t it time we stopped acting like this doesn’t happen? Do we not WANT young people and women to bring their gifts, talents, training and expertise to an industry sorely in need of a fresh approach?”
Tyner, Judith, “The Hidden Cartographers: Women in Mapmaking,” Mercator’s World, volume 2, number 6, November/December 1997, pp. 46-51.
Tyner, Judith, “Millie the Mapper and Beyond: The Role of Women in Cartography Since World War II,” Meridian – Map and Geography Round Table of the American Library Association No. 15 1999 pp23-28.