I find maps to be fascinating, and the older ones are such a wonderful time capsule of history. Mary Tharp loved maps, and created them for a vast area she never saw.
A path-breaking American geologist and oceanographic cartographer Tharp's work revealed the presence of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, leading scientist into accepting the apparently radical theories of plate tectonics and continental drift.
"This is how they looked 250 million years ago. I had a blank canvas to fill with extraordinary possibilities, a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to piece together," Tharp said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime — a once-in-the-history-of-the-world —opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s."
Born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, her mother was an instructor in German and Latin; her father made soil classification maps for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She graduated from Ohio University, and later received a masters degree in petroleum geology at a time when women obtained fewer than 4% of all earth sciences doctorates.
She worked with Bruce Heezen for 18 years. Barred from working aboard the research ship Vema because she was a woman, Mary drew the maps based on Heezen's bathyemtric data. In 1965 she was able to join the crew on a data-collection expidition.
It took years for her contributions to be recognized. In 1998 she was honored by the Library of Congress' Geography and Map Division, and the following year, she was recognized by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
In 2001 she was honored by her home institution with the Lamont-Doherty Heritage Award. Today, a fellowship at Lamont-Doherty to promote women in science through the ADVANCE program bearing her name.
Thank you Mary Tharp for following your dream, changing scientific beliefs, and going where few women had gone before.