The Bottom Lines : Women Establish Themselves on Solid Ground in the Male-Dominated Field of Geology

Times Staff Writer

To the unschooled eye, Bailey Canyon in Sierra Madre looks idyllic and picturesque; as seen by geoscientists, it is a series of frontal fault units and fan exposures.

Millard Canyon in Altadena offers a streambed and hiking trails; for geoscientists it is a wellspring of geomorphic features indicating late Pleistocene faulting.

And so it goes along the San Gabriel Mountain foothills when members of the Assn. for Women Geoscientists take a hike.

As women, they are pioneers in a science that until recently was almost exclusively male because of its rugged demands. But members of Los Angeles chapter of the group say that’s what appeals to them.

They are young, sturdy women who say they were initially attracted to geology because it allows them to take their interest in science outdoors. As geology students, they branched into specialties that include geophysics, oil exploration, hydrogeology and engineering geology.


Betty Johnson of Pomona, a geophysicist for Unocal and national president of the association, said that the members exchange information from their various disciplines and hike together as often as once a month.

On a recent exploration of the Sierra Madre fault between Bailey Canyon and Millard Canyon, about a dozen women scaled steep mountainsides, leaped streams and dug into field study, looking for signs of the fault that is next to the one whose movement rocked San Fernando in 1971.

The oldest among them was Mary Jane Bartholomew, 31, of Pasadena, a geologist for Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Johnson said 4% of this country’s professional geologists are women, and almost all of them entered the field in the last decade. However, 50% of geology students now are women and the Assn. for Women Geoscientists has 1,000 members in 14 cities, she said.

“We want to break new ground scientifically, but as scientists, not just because we’re women,” said Johnson.

She entered the field because of her fascination with plate tectonics, a theory of the Earth’s shifting strata, Johnson said. “I was a physicist and this was more tangible than quantum mechanics. And working in oil exploration is absolutely exciting.”

Danna Truslow of Sierra Madre, president of the 100-member Los Angeles chapter and a hydrogeologist for R. L. Stollar & Associates, said, “If you’re lucky, you get to spend 50% of your time outdoors.”

That, and her commitment to protecting natural resources, led her into the field where she finds ways to protect underground water from contamination and where she can exercise her imagination, Truslow said.

“There’s so much mystery,” she said. “A lot of geology is underground where you can’t see it.”

Her employer, Robert Stollar, said that when he began working in 1969 he knew of no women geologists, but now half of the geologists in his small Santa Ana-based company are women.

“There’s no reason why they have to be either women or men,” Stollar said. “Brute strength isn’t needed, just endurance.”

At monthly meetings and field trips during the past year, association members studied the Stringfellow acid waste pits near Riverside, attended a topographical map interpretation seminar, hiked in Death Valley, studied the geology of gold deposits and toured the Goleta gas storage field.

They also listened to lectures entitled “Getting Over Your Fear of Public Speaking,” “How to Survive in the Real World,” and “Image Engineering.”

“Anyone in geology in California needs to understand our natural resources, economy and hazards,” Johnson said.