MIGNON TALBOT (1869-1950)

Mignon Talbot spent her paleontology career focused on education and collecting. Born in Iowa, Talbot attended Ohio State University and then completed her PhD at Yale University in 1904. Immediately out of graduate school, she was hired as an instructor at Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s college. While other professional women at this time were often denied raises and promotions, women employed at women’s colleges typically had great potential for career growth. Talbot was soon made assistant professor, then associate professor, and professor, and by 1908 was chair of the department of geology. In 1929, she was a professor of geology and geography, and was the chair of both departments.

One of her biggest discoveries came in 1910, when she was simply out for a stroll with her sister. She immediately noticed a small hill that was actually an accumulation of sand and gravel that had been left behind by receding glaciers. Within a sandstone boulder Talbot spotted a streak of white and upon further inspection, recognized it as a vertebra. At this moment, Talbot had found Mount Holyoke’s first dinosaur skeleton. The specimen was complete, except for its head, and Talbot named it Podokesaurus holyokensis (swift-footed saurian of Holyoke).

Between 1904 and 1916, Talbot amassed a large collection of invertebrate fossils, Triassic footprints, and of course the dinosaur skeleton. Over Christmas 1916, the geology building at Mount Holyoke burned down, and all of her collections were destroyed.  Talbot retired from teaching in 1935, but spent many years after the fire rebuilding her collections at the college. In fact, just eight years after the fire the department’s collection had become so large, new cases were needed to hold it. 

The original fossil was destroyed in the Mount Holyoke fire, but a cast of the specimen is still on display in New Haven, Connecticut, courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

The original fossil was destroyed in the Mount Holyoke fire, but a cast of the specimen is still on display in New Haven, Connecticut, courtesy of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

A half-scale model of the dinosaur, made in the early 1900s, is also exhibited at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. 

A half-scale model of the dinosaur, made in the early 1900s, is also exhibited at the Peabody Museum of Natural History