She Used Fossilized Clams To Break The Glass Ceiling

Carol Jones was a pioneer in the geological science department at Harvard grad school

Advertisement

photo

Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Carol Jones

photo

Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Carol Jones teaches student Wayne Van Horn in a class at Gila Community College. A paleontologist by training, with a specialty in clams, Jones moved to Payson to care for her mother.

When Carol Jones walked the halls of Harvard, it was a man’s world. You could count the number of women in the geological science department on one hand. Those who did attend might have smoke blown in their faces from a cigar-wielding graduate adviser.

Jones, 65, is solid and stands 5 feet, 10-1/2 inches tall. She is not the type to squelch in protest. “I see myself as someone who has endured more than anything.”

She was the fifth female to graduate from Harvard’s graduate geological sciences program. In spite of various affronts in an era of female subservience, Jones has persevered, not in spite of her womanhood, but because of it, not in spite of her plainness, but because of it.

“It helped to be taller than average,” Jones said — and plain. “The blondes got abused and the cute ones got abused.”

Jones took her books and buried her nose and plowed on.

A paleontologist by training, with a specialty in clams, Jones moved to Payson to care for her mother — who died in 2005 — and now teaches at Gila Community College.

From her high school days surrounded by wealthy horseback riding girls at a Massachusetts boarding school, Jones has unapologetically pursued her interests.

Those years developed in Jones a stoicism — she lost contact with her father during high school after her parents divorced and she could not confide in her mother because her mother would not have offered sympathy.

“My mother was of the school that one did not whine.” Jones’ mother would have likely also avoided female scenes.

The heartiness of self-sufficiency developed as a consequence of a somewhat isolated young woman interested in non-typically feminine pursuits. She attended a women’s college, which afforded its attendees chances at all leadership roles and freedom from men interrupting in class. “You get the sense that you can really do it,” Jones said. “That you’re not stupid.”

Jones graduated high school in 1961, at a time when knowledge of math and science was considered “unwomanly.”

At the time, Stoneleigh-Burnham was transitioning from its secretarial business program to a college preparation curriculum. Jones took the latter track, and found herself unable to relate to the other girls.

“I was in with people whose expectations of life were different than mine,” Jones said. Those girls followed a “script.” Go to boarding school, marry a New York City investment banker, join the country club and play bridge.

“I did not grow up with horses. I did not grow up spending vacations in Bermuda,” Jones said. “I was the geeky kid with the books.”

Jones was born near Baltimore, but moved with her parents near Boston after World War II. Her father was an engineer and her mother stayed home.

“I was an only kid and so I spent a lot of time poking around outdoors,” Jones said. She and her father took trips to the shore, and played in tide pools.

She asked her parents to send her to boarding school because the Salem, Mass. high school she would have attended was West Side Story-like with rumbles and switchblades, Jones said. “The college prep program there was honorable, but it was just simply unsafe.”

For college, Jones attended the all-girls Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. One of Jones’ influences, Florence Bascom, once taught at Bryn Mawr, although before Jones was born. Bascom was the first female to earn a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, despite sitting behind a screen to remain invisible to the men.

After graduating from college in 1965, Jones enrolled in a master’s geology program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Some of her professors, she loved. Her adviser, she didn’t. Three students, all with the same adviser, decided to leave the program.

The teacher came from industry, Jones said, and treated his students like employees. Unhappy, she decided to apply to Harvard. “What the hell,” she thought. “If I get in I’ll go, and if I don’t, I’ll figure out something else.”

She took a specialty in paleontology — “not dinosaurs thank you.” Jones chose clams.

For one, clams left a good fossil record. Secondly, they were complex despite the deception of simplicity.

“You’re down there, and you’re alone finding out entirely new things,” Jones said about studying the tiny mollusks.

Jones enrolled in Harvard in 1967. The university entices students with its prestige, but can alienate them with its oversized ego.

“The faculty is not rewarded for teaching. It is rewarded to research,” Jones said. The problem permeates many of the most discriminating schools.

Advisers were driven by fame and power — ideas Jones could not imbed in her personal ambition. She enjoyed pure discovery. Plus, she was a woman.

Jones said faculty forced one woman out after she became pregnant, convinced she didn’t have time for studies.

The woman ended up at Johns Hopkins University, according to Jones.

Jones finished her studies, but didn’t walk at graduation. Finances forced her to take a job in Chicago after her coursework was essentially finished, but before the ceremony took place.

She worked at Chicago’s Field Museum, taught at Tufts University in Massachusetts and at the historically black Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina.

For the past two years, she has taught at Gila Community College. This semester, she teaches environmental geology and power vocabulary.

“I have moved so many times now that it feels nice just to be in one place for a couple of years,” Jones said. “Moving five tons of books — and that is about correct — gets expensive.”

Jones has settled in Payson, content with teaching. Her pioneering voyage through Harvard’s hallowed halls was not purposeful in the barrier-breaking sense.

Today’s females can take for granted the tribulations of their predecessors, a fact which illustrates how much the world has changed.

“For the first time in its umpteen-year history, Harvard has a female president,” Jones noted. “She is from Bryn Mawr.”

Drew Gilpin Faust’s mother told her, “It’s a man’s world, sweetie, and the sooner you learn that the better off you’ll be,” according to The New York Times.

Faust did not imbed such limitations, and neither did Jones.

They did not venture into the man’s world because they were women, but in spite of it. And because of those women, today’s females will seldom hear, “It’s a man’s world, honey.”

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.