Science: Edith Berkeley

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At age 14 Edith travelled unaccompanied from Tasmania to England via Cape Horn. She had already journeyed from South Africa to England, to India, and to Tasmania. With a scholarship to the University of London she completed a pre-medical course, and chose to work in pure science--chemistry and zoology. In 1898 she met Cyril Berkeley, whom she married in 1902.

They returned to India where Edith helped in Cyril's research. She bore a daughter, Alfreda, who was left with Edith's mother in England. India's climate proved too much for Edith, and the couple moved to British Columbia, where Cyril began farming in the Okanagan. Realizing that their interests still lay in scientific research, both joined the staff of the infant University of British Columbia, and later, the Pacific Biological Station at Nanaimo. Edith began work on polychaetes (marine worms) which established her as a world authority.

Edith worked as a volunteer from 1919 to 1963. Her work at the Station brought considerable prestige to the institution, though she was never officially on staff.

Volunteerism has declined with modern lifestyles. In Edith's day, however, female volunteers had advantages over paid scientists. Volunteers could do field work, whereas government and academe did not hire women. Married volunteers were not expected to give up their work; paid scientists were. Academic institutions enforced nepotism rules, and the scientist-wife was often a "footnote" in a two person single career--the husband's.

Volunteers worked more or less as they wished. Edith did field work and in 1923 began publishing. In 1930, Cyril also a volunteer, gave up his research to help her. Edith published a dozen papers under her own name; together the Berkeleys produced 34 papers between 1932 and 1964. Many organisms have been named for them.

Edith loved her garden and spent much time among her flowers. She suffered a great deal when Alfreda died in 1951, but lost neither spirit nor direction, continuing research until her death at age 88.


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