WINIFRED GOLDRING (1888-1971)

Courtesy of the New York State Museum

Courtesy of the New York State Museum

Although Winifred Goldring grew up the daughter of a successful florist, her passion for the natural sciences didn’t grow until college. Goldring enrolled at Wellesley College in 1905 intending to study classical languages. But two science courses were required to graduate. Goldring took zoology and botany, and it changed her life. She majored in those subjects, but also took geology, and continued on at Wellesley under geologist William Morris Davis of Harvard.

Like many other women scientists of the time, Goldring spent her early career teaching, both at Wellesley and at a teacher’s school in Boston. In 1914, John Mason Clarke hired her as a scientific expert at the New York State Museum, due to her knowledge of invertebrate fossils.  

This was the beginning of a long and fruitful career. Goldring worked at the New York State Museum for forty years, first as Scientific Expert in Paleontology, then as Assistant Paleontologist, Associate Paleontologist, Paleobotanist, Associate Paleontologist, Provisional State Paleontologist, and State Paleontologist. Her work focused on fossil trees, fossil algae, and crinoids, or “sea lilies”.  One of her most significant projects was a book about the state’s Devonian crinoids that had been started by earlier scientists and never finished. Goldring spent seven years assembling the project, which ended up at 670 pages long, and included more than 60 plates illustrating the diverse crinoids of the state. Goldring’s other enormous undertaking was a public exhibit at the State Museum about the Gilboa fossil site. This full-scale diorama recreated the ancient forest with stumps, trees, and a painted backdrop.

Despite her illustrious career, Goldring met with many challenges as a woman in paleontology. She found it difficult to embark on fieldwork, and was often encouraged to “stick to the museum and laboratory”. She also advised other women to consider careers in botany or zoology rather than paleontology; she knew that her salary was a fraction of that the clerks and stenographers at the museum were earning.