Goldring, Winifred

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(b. Kenwood, near Albany, New York, 1 February 1888; d. Albany, 30 January 1971)

paleontology, geology

Goldring’s father, Frederick, trained as an orchid grower at Kew Gardens before emigrating from England in 1879 to assume charge of the orchid collections at the Erastus Corning estate near Albany. Her mother was Mary Grey, a teacher and daughter of Corning’s head gardener. Subsequently her father opened his own floral business in Slingerlands, an Albany suburb.

Winifred showed unusual talent, and in 1905 graduated as class valedictorian from the high school of the New York State Normal School. After taking her A.B. at Wellesley College in 1909, Goldring was assistant to Elizabeth F. Fisher, professor of geology. She studied as well with the Harvard geographer William Morris Davis, who supervised the thesis that earned her an A.M. from Wellesley in 1912. From 1912 to 1914 she remained at Wellesley as instructor in petrology and geology, and assistant in geography and field geology. In the summer of 1913 Goldring studied at Columbia University with systematic paleontologist Amadeus W. Grabau, and in 1921 with paleobotanist Edward W. Berry at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1914 Goldring accepted a temporary appointment as “scientific expert” to develop exhibits on fossils at the New York State Museum in Albany, which had recently opened a hall of invertebrate paleontology. The museum provided her with lifetime employment as she moved from assistant paleontologist through the ranks to become, in 1939, state paleontologist. All of Goldrings major work was done in the New York area, a result of her appointment and of the fact that the strata between Lake Erie and the Hudson River. exposed by deepcut rivers and the Finger Lakes but otherwise tectonically undisturbed, had become a classic reference for Devonian paleontology and stratigraphy. Under James Hall the New York State Geological Survey had produced the monumental thirteen-volume Palaeontology of New York (1847–1894) and had amassed an outstanding museum collection (despite the fact that Hall had been allowed to sell a substantial number of specimens in lieu of being paid a sufficient salary as state paleontologist).

Charles Abiathar White, working under Hall at midcentury, had found an extensive “colony of crinoids” in Hamilton shales that were described individually in subsequent years in New York State publications by Hall and his successor, John M. Clarke. The “sea lilies” were an important, primitive class of echinoderms. Goldring took up the study of crinoids after 1915; the resulting volume, Devonian Crinoids of the State of New York, revised earlier descriptions and detailed important characteristics of specimens held at the New York State Museum and the United States National Museum. The oversized volume had sixty plates produced by illustrator George S. Barkentin. Goldring’s work helped to clarify the controversial boundaries between the Silurian and Devonian periods (and within the Devonian as well) by further refining the evolution of the organisms. Goldring continued her investigation of crinoids and fossil plants while she met the other demands of her position.

Her initial museum assignment had been to “fill the cases,” and Goldring used the opportunity to explore technical and educational alternatives. Theresulting displays“What Is a Fossil?” and “What Is a Geological Formation?” were considered models and were copied elsewhere. Most famous was the representation of a large Gilboa (Middle Devonian) fossil forest of seed ferns, designed to represent the oldest known“petrified forest,” investigated by the museum staff in the early 1920’s. Assigned to exhibit the exciting new material, Goldring juxtaposed an impressionistic background painting (by Henri Marchand and sons) depicting the ancient forest and Schoharie Creek with life-size restorations of the fern trees and fossil stumps. The display, opened in 1925, also revealed three series of forests that had successively flourished, and subsequently been submerged, destroyed, and fossilized, at the Gilboa site.

In the late 1920’s state funds were more restricted, and the museum staff concentrated on educational programs, mapping, and applied geology. Goldring spent the summers between 1928 and 1937 largely doing fieldwork on the classic and complicated Helderberg Mountain region, which was essential to her geological maps and discussion of the Berne (1935) and Coxsackie (1943) quadrangles. Her responsibility to maintain public programs was met through several ambitious handbooks and exhibitions. Part 1 of her Handbook of Paleontology for Beginners and Amateurs, on fossils (1929), was simple enough for general readers but also was used as an introductory college textbook: it is still in print. Part 2, on formations (1931), updated the nomenclature and provided new correlation charts of the stratigraphy of the New York Devonian. Her field abilities, thoroughness, and incisive mind made even her Guide to the Geology of John Boyd Thacher Park (1933) and its setting a “case study” used by college faculty.

Goldring never pursued an academic appointment, but she worked actively with colleagues and their students (such as Charles Schuchert’s student G. Arthur Cooper) who studied New York fossils and sedimentary formations, even arranging for their summer support. She did not much like public lecturing, but she regularly attended professional meetings and was an active member of the major geological, paleontological, and museum associations. Although her research was done exclusively in New York and adjacent states and provinces, Goldring took extended trips throughout the United States, Canada, and Alaska, and lived for one summer in Cuba. When the International Geological Congress met at Washington, D.C., in 1933, for example, she was principal guide for the ten-day tour through New York State and joined a thirtyday transcontinental trip conducted mainly for foreign geologists.

Goldring’s appointment as the first woman state paleontologist received considerable public attention. A quiet yet forceful woman who never married, she could be very direct in her opinions regarding opportunities for women in paleontology (not very good) and evaluating the quality of work produced by her peers. The latter recognized her merit by electing her president of the Paleontological Society in 1949 (another female first) and vice president of the Geological Society of America in 1950. Goldring retired in 1954 and spent the next sixteen years at her family home in Slingerlands. reading and walking in the Helderbergs.


I. Original. Works. Goldring’s writings include The Devonian Crinoids of the State of New York, New York State Museum Memoir 16 (1923); Handbook of Paleontology for Beginners. I. The Fossils (Albany, N.Y. 1929; 2nd ed., 1950): “The Oldest Known Petrified Forest [Gilboa. New York].” in Smithsonian Institution. Annual Report… for 1928 (1929), 315–341: Handbook Paleontology for Beginners. II. The Formations (Albany, N.Y., 1931): “Some Upper Devonian Crinoids from New York,” in Annals of the Carnegie Museum, 24 (1934–1935), 337–348: “New and Previously Known Middle Devonian Crinoids of New York,” ibid., 349–368; Geology of the Berne Quadrangle. New York State Museum Bulletin. 303 (1935), with a chapter on glacial geology by John H. Cook: and Geology of the Coxsackie Quadrangle. New York State Museum Bulletin, 332 (1943). with a chapter on glacial geology by John H. Cook,

Official correspondence is in the New York State Archives in Albany, in the Winifred Goldring and John M. Clarke MSS. A brief summary of Goldring’s personal activity is recorded in intermittent alumnae reports to Wellesley College. There are a significant number of letters in the Chares Schuchert MSS in the Yale University Archives and in the Division of Marine Invertebrate MSS, J. Brookes Knight MSS, and Ray S. Bassler MSS at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

II. Secondary Literature. The only biographical article of any length is Donald W. Fisher, “Memorial to Winifred Goldring, 1888–1971,” in Memorials of the Geological Society of America, 3 11974), 96–102, with a list of her publications. See also American Men and Women of Science, I (1995), 705: and Notable American Women: The Modern Period, IV (1980), 282–283.

Sally Gregory Kohlsted

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Goldring, Winifred

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