Women and girls continue to struggle to gain full and equal access to science education and careers. Of researchers across the globe, less than 30% are women. This is the same in the United States, where women constitute only 28% of workers in science and engineering occupations. With women and girls composing half of the world’s population, and despite women making up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, we have not reached equality in science degree programs or in our workforce. Figures such as these led the United Nations to proclaim February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an annual day dedicated to generating greater public awareness and movement towards closing the gender gap in science.
Tyler Arboretum is incredibly fortunate to have an accomplished woman in science as part of its earliest days. You may be familiar with the name Gertrude Wister as the wife of the Arboretum’s first executive director John Wister, but let me share some more background on the scientist Gertrude Wister.
Gertrude graduated with honors in 1927 from the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in horticulture. Her academic training and professional experiences gave her the foundation to serve as an author and editor for articles in horticultural magazines and other special publications. She earned local-to-national awards from professional horticultural societies for her work.
Gertrude not only made her mark nationally as a scientist; she left a legacy at Tyler Arboretum. Gertrude played an important role in the leadership at Tyler Arboretum. For more than 25 years, she served on the board of trustees of the Arboretum. She served as assistant and then acting director of Tyler from 1944 to 1977. If you take a stroll behind Lachford Hall, those flowers that bloom in early spring are thanks to the many bulbs planted by Gertrude herself. When you see daffodils at Tyler, you can thank this female scientist and her passion for our natural world (see this Tyler blog post on Spring Time Cheer – Daffodils). Gertrude was also part of the team that designed and created Tyler’s Pinetum. This landscape of native and exotic conifers is one of Tyler’s most diverse and interested collections. You can learn more about this part of the property on Mandy’s Pinetum Tour!
Gertrude’s obituary in The Philadelphia Inquirer on July 20, 1999, was titled: “GERTRUDE S. WISTER, 94, A HORTICULTURIST.” I can think of no greater honor than to recognize her as a scientist upon her death. And on this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s not only honor the women that created pathways for us to follow, let’s also celebrate our current women in science and work to increase accessibility to science for young girls with curious minds, now and in the future.