Isabel Bassett Wasson

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Isabel Bassett Wasson

Birth: January 11, 1897

Death: February 21, 1994

Specialty: Geology

Major Contributions: 

First female ranger-naturalist at Yellowstone National Park

Work in petroleum geology

Image Courtesy Of: Wikimedia

March 1st marks the founding of the world’s first national park, which is located in the western United States. Not only is Yellowstone considered the first national park but it was also the place where one of the first female rangers for the National Park service, Isabel Bassett Wasson, began professionally sharing her passion for the natural world. 

While visiting the park in 1919 she was overheard sharing her knowledge of the geology of the area with family and friends. The park superintendent was so impressed he invited her back the next summer to be an official ranger-naturalist. After she earned her master’s degree in geology from Columbia University in 1920, she did return to Yellowstone becoming the park’s first female ranger. During that summer she gave over 200 lectures to visitors to the park, having to change her talks frequently as she developed quite a following, with people attending all four of her daily sessions.  She was asked to train the hotel bellhops to give the same lectures but felt it would be better if college students with more knowledge of the geology of the park were hired over the summer, leading to the tradition in many national parks of college students as summer naturalists.  

After her summer at Yellowstone, Wasson began working at Pure Oil as a field geologist  taking part in explorations of remote areas of South America. In 1927 she and her husband published an article about the discovery of an oil field by the company. She left Pure Oil in 1928 moving to River Forest Illinois where she  shifted her career, becoming a teacher and mentor to young naturalists and exploring the natural world in the area. During this time she discovered a Native American religious mound  which was verified by anthropologists from the University of Chicago.

In 1932 she wrote an article about the natural formations of Ohio that has been cited in numerous articles as well as a books on the topic.  For fifty years she taught classes at various locations in geology, botany, zoology, and ornithology and also served as the president of the Chicago Ornithological  Society. 

Written by Angela Goad


Isabel Bassett Wasson, A Teacher and Geologist

Wikipedia: Isabel Bassett Wasson

National Parks and the Woman’s Voice: A History

River Forest’s sacred snake mound

See Also:

Ken Burns Film: The National Parks America’s Best Idea

Isabel B. Wasson, 97, A Petroleum Geologist (Archived)