Catherine Alice Raisin (1855-1945) was a true trowelblazer: the first woman to study Geology at University College, London, the first woman to receive the Lyell Fund (at a time when women couldn’t even attend the meetings) and the first female vice-principal of a college.

That’s a few impressive firsts!

She was also the second woman to achieve a DSc, and was among the first female fellows of the Geological Society of London. It’s fair to say she didn’t believe in closed doors or glass ceilings.

Unsurprisingly, she was renowned for her support for women’s equality, setting up the Somerville Club as a discussion forum for women in 1880. That the club was disbanded in 1887 because women had more opportunities shows that the times were indeed ‘a-changin’…

Her membership of the National Society for Non-Smokers was also well-known, and she was unafraid to tell smokers her views. Her £300 bequest to the Society attracted newspaper headlines, and she left £500 to benefit non-smoking students at Bedford College in London, where she taught.

She was affectionately viewed by her students, known to them as ‘The Raisin’ or ‘The Sultana’, and placed great importance on engaging them in fieldwork. However, her efforts were often thwarted when the arrival of male students necessitated the removal of ‘her girls’ for decorum’s sake!

Written by Elaine Dale

Read more about Catherine Raisin in C. V. Burek’s ‘Catherine Raisin, a role-model professional geologist’ here (pdf) and in ‘The Role of Women in the History of Geology’, edited by C.V. Burek and B. Higgs

edited by @brennawalks

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