Bacon-Bercey, June 1932–
Bacon-Bercey, June 1932–
June Bacon-Bercey 1932–
June Bacon-Bercey was the only African-American woman to earn a degree in meteorology in the 1950s. She went on to become the first female television meteorologist in the country by assuming the position of weathercaster in Buffalo, New York, in 1970. Two years later she was honored as the first African American and the first woman to earn the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval for excellence in television weathercasting. Throughout her career, Bacon-Bercey spent time in government service, working for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Bacon-Bercey has worked in research, forecasting, weathercasting, and public affairs and has also been active in professional associations, including the American Meteorological Society Board on Women and Minorities, of which she is a founding member. After over three decades in the field of meteorology, Bacon-Bercey retired and became a consultant and an educator, dedicating much of her time encouraging women and minorities to pursue degrees and careers in meteorology.
June Bacon-Bercey was born on October 23, 1932, in Wichita, Kansas. Her father was an attorney and her mother was a music teacher. Bacon-Bercey was an only child who enjoyed bike riding, hiking, playing the piano, and participating in Girl Scout activities. She was excluded from many other social activities as a child because her parents were very strict and because of the racism of the 1940s and 1950s. However, this isolation allowed her to develop discipline and good study habits that would help her later on in life.
Bacon-Bercey became interested in science in high school. She spent a brief period in Florida where she attended a segregated high school. Blacks in that school were not encouraged in the subjects of math, physics, and chemistry, and Bacon-Bercey lost some of her passion for science for a short time. However, when she returned to a racially mixed school in Kansas where those subjects were taught vigorously, her enthusiasm for science returned. In fact, it was a physics teacher who noticed Bacon-Bercey’s interest in water displacement and buoyancy and who encouraged her to consider a career in meteorology.
Bacon-Bercey’s parents supported her career choice and encouraged her to pursue her education. She attended the University of California in Los Angeles, where she majored in math and meteorology, fields where women were traditionally looked down upon. One of her teachers even suggested that she take sewing instead of meteorology. However, as Bacon Bercey told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), when she earned an “A” in thermodynamics and a “B” in home economics, she knew that her decision to pursue a degree in science was the right one. Bacon-Bercey excelled in her classes and did not get distracted by all of the social activities that college had to offer because she was used to spending her time reading and studying; a result of her parents’ discipline. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in
At a Glance…
Born June Bacon-Bercey on October 23, 1932 in Wichita, KS; married George W. Brewer; two daughters. Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.S., 1954, MS. 1955; University of Southern California, M.P.A., 1979.
Career: National Meteorological Center, Washington, DC, 1956-62; Sperry Rand Corporation, 1962-69; National Broadcasting Company, 1970-73; Professional lecturer, 1974-75; National Weather Service, 1975-78; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), 1979-1981; National Weather Service, 1982-89; Consultant and educator, 1990-.
Memberships: American Meteorological Society; Women in Science and Engineering; American Geophysical Union; American Association of Public Administrators; New York Academy of Sciences.
Awards: Seal of Approval, American Meteorological Society, 1972; Certificate of Recognition for Sustained Superior Performance, NÒAA, 1982-84; Outstanding Contribution to Furthering the Mission of NOAA, NOAA, 1984-92; Minority Pioneer for Achievements in Atmospheric Sciences, National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2000; World’s Who’s Who of Women, Certificate of Merit.
Addresses: Home —160 Bella Vista Drive, Hillsborough, CA 94010-6261.
1954 and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in meteorology in 1955.
After earning her degrees, Bacon-Bercey worked as a meteorologist for the National Meteorological Center in Washington, D.C., from 1956 until 1962. In this position Bacon-Bercey processed records of tides and currents and produced ocean survey briefs. She also prepared weather forecasting reports and she was eventually promoted to be the principal forecaster for a five-state area. Bacon-Bercey also worked as a radar meteorologist and she was responsible for analyzing radar pictures to determine the time and intensity of developing storms.
In 1962 she went to work for the Sperry Rand Corporation as a consultant. In this capacity Bacon-Bercey worked on a variety of projects, including monitoring the paths of underwater objects by sound and studying the effects of temperature on the detection of movement. She also worked as a consultant for the Atomic Energy Commission studying the fallout patterns caused by nuclear detonation. While working for the Atomic Energy Commission, Bacon-Bercey met George W. Brewer, an atomic scientist who later became a lawyer. Bacon-Bercey eventually married Brewer and the couple had two children, Dail St. Claire and Dawn-Marie.
In 1970 Bacon-Bercey began working for a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) television station in Buffalo, New York, as a correspondent on scientific news, and she also hosted a daily consumer television program. Soon after she began working at the station, the current weathercaster, who had a chronic gambling problem, was fired promptly when he was arrested for robbery. The station needed someone to fill his position in a hurry and Bacon-Bercey was the obvious choice since she had a degree in meteorology. Bacon-Bercey was so adept at the job that she became the station’s chief meteorologist, one of the first African-American women to hold such a position. Bacon-Bercey was not just a pretty weather girl, she was also knowledgeable and articulate about the science behind the weather forecasts. In 1972 Bacon-Bercey became the first African American and the first woman to earn the American Meteorological Society’s Seal of Approval for excellence in television weathercasting. According to Bacon-Bercey, only six women had earned this distinction by 2002.
From 1974 to 1975 Bacon-Bercey worked as a professional lecturer in meteorology. She then returned to the National Weather Service to work as a meteorologist and a broadcaster. In 1979 Bacon-Bercey began working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). She started out as a public affairs specialist who conducted press conferences and educated the public about environmental and meteorological issues. She was then promoted to chief of radio and television services. In this capacity she conducted weather briefings for researchers, forecasters, businesses, the government, and the media. Bacon-Bercey also returned to school to earn a Master’s of Public Administration from the University of Southern California in 1979.
In her position at NOAA, Bacon-Bercey was involved in a project to teach meteorology at traditionally black colleges to introduce minorities to the subject matter and to encourage them to pursue careers in the field. In 1977 NOAA began such a program at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. They created a summer program for high school and college students. They also built a high quality meteorology laboratory equipped with all of the necessary instruments, such as the weather facsimile machine to reproduce weather maps and satellite pictures and a weather teletype circuit to provide weather reports. The NOAA-Jackson State colloboration also developed an accredited degree program in meteorology by having existing Jackson State University professors teach core courses in math and physics, and bringing NOAA meteorologists to teach meteorology. Bacon-Bercey participated as a lecturer for this program.
Bacon-Bercey was well aware of the significance of being the first African-American woman to gain professional recognition and public acceptance in her field. She used her fame to encourage other women and minorities to follow in her footsteps. In 1975 Bacon-Bercey helped found the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Board on Women and Minorities to increase the number of women and minorities in the atmospheric sciences. Although it is difficult to calculate the exact number of black scientists in the field at that time, a 1974 study by the National Science Foundation estimated that only 2.6 percent of all scientists in the United States were black and only about one percent of all meteorologists nationwide were black.
Bacon-Berscey was actively involved in the AMS activities in this area. In particular, she was the program leader for AMS involvement in science and engineering fairs. Bacon-Bercey saw these fairs as a vehicle for increasing young people’s interest in science and encouraging them through public recognition of their accomplishments. Bacon-Bercey believed that her work with the AMS could have a direct impact on increasing the number of minorities in the field. In the May 1978 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Bacon-Bercey wrote that “leadership and commitment by professional societies play a significant role in remedying the severe shortage of black Americans in the profession of meteorology.”
Bacon-Bercey’s commitment to this cause has gone beyond her involvement in the AMS. In 1977 Bacon-Bercey participated in a television game show called The $128,000 Question. Bacon-Bercey won $64,000 by answering questions about composer John Philip Sousa. She then used her winnings to establish a scholarship fund for women studying atmospheric sciences, which is administered by the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. Bacon-Bercey believed the scholarship would help more women become meteorologists. “I was discouraged (from becoming one),” Bacon-Bercey told Bob Levy of The Washington Post, “And other women were discouraged. If they feel they’ve got some money behind them, it might be better.”
In 1982 Bacon-Bercey moved to California where she became a forecasting training officer for the National Weather Service. She was responsible for teaching forecasters about new technologies in the field. She later became an aviation specialist working with pilots and air traffic controllers. By 1990 Bacon-Bercey retired from government service and became a consultant and an educator. She has since worked with numerous schools, universities, and professional associations to educate people about atmospheric sciences. In 1995 she contributed to a lesson for elementary school students on the CD-ROM called Science Anytime published by Harcourt Brace. Bacon-Bercey also worked occasionally as a substitute science teacher for the San Mateo County public school system. “I love teaching,” Bacon-Bercey told Bill Workman of the San Francisco Chronicle in March of 2000. “It nurtures me, and some of the kids just blow me away with what they know.”
Bacon-Bercey’s distinguished career is far from over. She continues to do consulting and educational work, although she retired more than a decade ago. Bacon-Bercey takes great pride in her work and she finds it very rewarding. She particularly enjoys the respect of her colleagues that she has earned because of the quality of her work. “The respect of her peers—respect that supercedes age, race, or sex difference and prejudice—provides her with opportunities to develop ideas and the resources to make them a reality,” Pamela Quick Hall of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote about Bacon-Bercey in June of 1984. Bacon-Bercey has received numerous awards for her professional work. Most notably in 2000 she was recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a minority pioneer for her achievements in the atmospheric sciences.
(Contributor) Science Anytime (CD-ROM), Harcourt Brace, 1995.
“Statistics on Black Meteorologists in Six Organizational Units of the Federal Government,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, May 1978.
“Summary of AMS Participation in the 1986 Science and Engineering Affiliated Fairs,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, December 1986.
Hall, Pamela Quick, A Day’s Work?… A Life’s Work!, Office of Opportunity and Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1984.
Notable Black American Scientists, Gale, 1998.
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, May 1978; December 1984.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 2000, p. A15. The Washington Post, June 2, 1977.
The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences, www.princetion.edu/~mcbrown/display/bacon-bercey.html
American Meteorological Society Board on Women and Minorities, www.amsbwm.org/foundingmembers.html
Additional information for this profile was provided through an interview with Contemporary Black Biography in December 2002.
—Janet P. Stamatel