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Maria Graham (1785-1842): the first woman to have a paper published in one of the Geological Society's journals

Graham in Chilli

Frontispiece to Maria Graham’s ‘Journal of a residence in Chile, during the year 1822 : and a voyage from Chile to Brazil in 1823’ (1824).

The travel writer Maria Graham (1785-1842) holds the distinction of being the first woman to have a paper published in one of our journals. As was common with many of the learned Societies of the period, when the Geological Society was founded in 1807 women were excluded from membership. Despite this, women such as Graham still engaged with the Society, submitting papers and museum material.

Born in Cumberland, Maria Dundas’ education was broad and accomplished. She is known to have been an eager student of Latin, French, Italian, botany, history, geography, English literature, music, and drawing, and she read equally widely.

Her major travels abroad began when she and her siblings accompanied her naval officer father to Bombay in 1808. On the boat over she met her first husband, Lieutenant Thomas Graham, and spent the next two years travelling around the country, resulting in her first book, ‘Journal of a Residence in India’ (1812).

After a period spent in Italy, publishing a further travel journal as well as a scholarly work on the painter Nicholas Poussin, the Grahams set sail for South America in 1821. Tragedy struck when her husband died en route to Chile in April 1822. The grieving Graham was advised to return to Britain, but she chose to remain on in the country, immersing herself in its geography, natural history and culture.

It was whilst staying in Quintero, Chile in November 1822 that she experienced the series of earthquakes which would form the subject of her paper to the Society. “An account of some effects of the late earthquakes in Chili” was published in the Transactions of the Geological Society in 1824 to little fuss, but ten years later Graham found herself at the centre of a very public argument between two of the most eminent Fellows of the Society.

Click on the links below to find out more:

TGS extract
    Greenough v Lyell
    Callcott v Greenough

The paper


Greenough vs Lyell


Graham vs Greenough

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