Late last year, as darkness descended in the early afternoon, I stumbled across a wonderful photograph whilst researching for a little blog post about belemnites. The black and white photograph from 1914 showed a rather well dressed lady, standing in a brick pit, confidently looking towards the rock face. But she wasn’t named.
Who was she? What was she doing dressed so well standing in a muddy quarry? Why is the photo on the Buck Geology webpage? Could this woman be an early 20th Century troweblazer?
The photograph is held at the British Geological Survey’s archives in Keyworth. If they owned the photograph, surely they would know who was in it? But although they hold two copies of this photo, neither identifies the lady.
The BGS archives do reveal some information. These photos came into their possession from two different sources: one is from the British Association for the Advancement of Science Collection; the second is in the Geologists’ Association ‘Carreck Archive’ with a caption “Kimmeridge Clay with Septaria. Orbiculoidea latissima was found here. Bliss’s Pitt, Stewkley, Bucks. T. W. Reader 18.7.14.” The BGS assume ‘T. W. Reader’ is the photographer.
So, we have a mysterious lady standing in Bliss’s Brick Pit in 1914. I contacted the Local Studies Library in Buckinghamshire to see if they had any information. Unfortunately they couldn’t put a name to the lady. They did find out that Mrs Elizabeth Bliss ran the Brick quarry from 1903 – 1907, seven years earlier than the date of the photograph.
A dead end.
Another dead end.
One photograph and several organisations later, and this enigmatic trowelblazer remains just that, enigmatic. Her clothing may appear out of place, but this was the typical attire for ladies in 1914, geologist or archaeologist. She stands confidently in the muddy clay with her left leg out in front for balance, conveying experience. She is standing on a small scree slope; not something anyone would do. This lady knows rocks and bedding, and she knows geology.
Even though this photograph is 100 years old, and the lady hasn’t been identified yet, this TrowelBlazer isn’t forgotten.
Can you help discover this trowelblazer’s identity? There were many women at Oxford and Cambridge studying in 1914 (could it be Elinor Gardner? She was at Newnham then — but perhaps a Somerville student would be more likely, given the closer proximity of Oxford to Bliss’s Pit). And of course many women attended the Geologists’ Association field trips.
Jan’s quest piqued my interest, and so I contacted friend-to-TrowelBlazers Bob McIntosh at the BGS. He’s provided us with photos of GA field trips on 1908 and 1916 – can you match any of the women in them with the Bliss’s Pit photograph?
Finally, let’s just take a moment to revel in just how many women are on these field trips! So many names, all deserving their own TrowelBlazers post! #hinthint
Please share all your ideas – even if we can’t solve the mystery, we’ll be sure to uncover more fascinating stories in the process.
Written by @janfreedman
Edited & additional content by Tori.
Huge thanks to Bob McIntosh from the BGS for his unfailing help and support of TrowelBlazers – without him, we wouldn’t have these wonderful images to share with you.