This month we have two Kickass Women: Annie Montague Alexander and her partner, Louise Kellogg.
Annie was born in the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1867. Her grandparents were missionaries and her parents were wealthy colonizers.. She went to school in Hawaii, California, and Massachusetts before going to Paris to study painting. Annie fully intended to become a professional artist, but she found that painting for too long gave her horrible headaches. She subsequently had the same problem when studying to be a nurse. Happily, she had money from her parents and plenty of diversions. Her father took her, her sister, and a cousin on a bike ride through Europe, and an Uncle took her on a multi-country tour of Asia. [Ed. note: as you do.]
Finally, it happened – in 1900 Annie discovered paleontology, which became her life’s work, on a trip to Crater Lake in Oregon. She wrote to a friend:
I like it more and more, this study of our old, old world and the creatures to whom it belonged in the past, just as much as it does to us today. Perhaps the study is all the more interesting because it is incomplete, there is so much yet to find out – but I think it is wonderful, what all at once you might say, this tremendous desire to know has done for science.
That same year Annie began auditing classes at the University of California, Berkeley. This began a life-long collaboration between Annie, her partner Louise, and the University. Annie founded the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley and the University of California Museum of Paleontology and kept both stocked with specimens from her own expeditions among others. She was a hands-on founder who never stopped advocating for both of the museums to be well stocked, well-housed, well-organized, and well-staffed.
Annie went on many expeditions, including ones to Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Kenya, Alaska, Baja California, Mexico, and Vancouver Island. She frequently found that in addition to working as a paleontologist and zoologist, she was called upon to cook at the end of the day. In 1905, she and a friend, Edna Wemple, helped to excavate some of the largest ichthyosaur fossils known to science at that time:
We worked hard up to the last. My dear friend Miss Wemple stood by me through thick and thin. Together we sat in the dust and sun, marking and wrapping bone. No sooner were those loaded in the wagon . . . than new piles took their places. Night after night we stood before a hot fire to stir rice, or beans, or corn, or soup, contriving the best dinners we could out of our dwindling supply of provisions. We sometimes wondered if the men thought the fire wood dropped out of the sky or whether a fairy godmother brought it to our door, for they never asked any questions . . . .
In 1908, Annie met Louise Kellogg, who became her companion for the next 42 years.
Louise was born in 1879 in Oakland, California. She came from an adventurous family and lived in a house that her grandfather had built during the Gold Rush. Her father taught her to fish and to hunt, skills that came in handy on her trips with Annie. She had a Classics degree from UC Berkeley, where she met Annie. Annie then invited her, along with several other women, to accompany her on a collecting trip to Alaska. Their partnership lasted until Annie’s death.
They were presumably a romantic couple, but for understandable reasons they were never open about any romantic or sexual feelings towards each other. Regardless of the exact nature of their partnership, it was clearly a close, enduring and loving one. The women lived together, and, as Annie found that the company of another woman lent her respectability on her travels, they took many trips together, working side by side.
Louise was especially interested in small mammals and in plants. Louise’s paper on “Rodent Fauna of the late Tertiary Beds of Virgin Valley Thousand Creek Nevada” was the second paper in mammalogy to be published by a woman. She and Annie bought a house at Grizzly Island, California, where they owned and operated an asparagus farm and ranch. They continued traveling, collecting fossils and specimens of flora and fauna from Mexico and the United States.
Annie died at the age of 82 of a stroke. Louise continued to collect flora for U.C. Berkeley before settling down at the farm. She died at the age of 88, leaving an endowment to the University Herbarium that continues to support botany research today.
Museum of the Earth
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
UC Museum of Paleontology