100 years of female Fellows – Jane Donald Longstaff

2019 marks 100 years since women were able to be elected as Fellows of the Geological Society, with the first eight elected in May 1919. They came from a diverse range of specialisms, backgrounds and experience – as part of our activities to mark the anniversary, we’re profiling each of them.

We know more about some than others – if you have any information you’d like to share with us about our early female Fellows, please get in touch! 

Jane Donald Longstaff (1855-1935)

Born in Carlisle, Jane Donald (1856–1935) was the eldest of four children. She was educated privately in London and then at the Carlisle College of Art, but showed a passion for natural history – and particularly for snails – from an early age.

Her interest in all things mollusc led to her becoming a self taught expert – collecting, drawing and describing modern genera and species, and eventually writing a paper which was read at the Cumberland Association for the advancement of Literature and Science in Carlisle in 1881 – she was 25. A member of the Association, geologist John George Goodchild (1844-1906), suggested she turn her attention to fossils of the same phyla.

In 1885, Donald published a paper on Carboniferous gastropods in the Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmoorland Association – the first of many publications throughout her life. In all she published around 20 papers on Palaeozoic gastropods, including seven papers in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society between 1887 and 1918, the last of which was published just two years before her death.

Carboniferous gastropods drawn by Jane Donald.

Donald’s background in art was good training for annotating her papers with her own diagrams. She combined this with a meticulous attention to detail and, despite having no formal training in geology, she became the leading expert in the systematic palaeontology of the Murchisoniidae, Pleurotomariidae and Loxonematidae families of gastropoda. She joined the Geologists’ Association in 1883, and in 1898 was awarded the Geological Society’s Murchison Fund, an award for researchers under the age of 40, becoming only the second woman to receive an award from the Society.

Donald was unable to receive the Murchison Fund in person, and £28 4s 3d was received on her behalf by a Mr Newton. The Society’s President, Henry Hicks (1837-1899), said this on presenting the award:

‘On the present occasion a lady who has attained distinction as a palaeontologist has been selected by the Council to receive an award from the Murchison Fund […]’ She is ‘untiring in her zeal in collecting information for future work […] the Council hope it will be accepted not only as a token of appreciation of the excellent work which she has already accomplished, but in the hope that it may be some incentive to her to continue her palaeontological researches among the Palaeozoic rocks’.

In her reply in a letter read by Mr Newton, Donald states: The news came to me as a great surprise for I had previously deemed it no small honour that my papers should have been considered worthy of publication in the Quarterly Journal of the Society and this higher recognition will certainly prove an encouragement to further research and I hope better work. My studies have been a source of great pleasure to me and I feel that there is still much to be found out.

She was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1906, and in the same year married Dr George Blundell Longstaff (1849-1921), a well known entomologist and author of Butterfly Hunting in Many Lands (1912).

An inheritance meant that Donald could travel widely throughout her life. Following her marriage, she and Longstaff travelled together, visiting museums and collections in Africa, Australia, the West Indies and South America, collecting as they went. She published more papers and created detailed illustrations both for her own extant and fossil specimens, and for her husband’s collections. She is well known for her detailed studies on the snails in Sudan, Africa.

Following her death, much of Donald’s extensive collections were donated by her nephew to London’s Natural History Museum. Her specimens form part of the British Geological Survey’s collections, and can also be found in the Tullie Museum and Art Gallery in her hometown of Carlisle, the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow and the National Museum in Edinburgh. At the time of her death in 1935, she was the longest surviving member of the Geologists’ Association – which allowed female members from its founding – having been a member for 53 years.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post contained an infographic that reported that Jane Donald Longstaff was awarded the Murchison Fund in 1889. This is incorrect; she received the fund in 1898.

Read more about our first eight female Fellows:

References and further reading: 

3 thoughts on “100 years of female Fellows – Jane Donald Longstaff

  1. Pingback: 100 years of female Fellows: Margaret Crosfield | Geological Society of London blog

  2. Pingback: 100 years of female Fellows: Ethel Woods (nee Skeat) | Geological Society of London blog

  3. Pingback: 100 years of female Fellows: Maria Matilda Gordon | Geological Society of London blog

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