Smith’s Black Hills Geological Expeditions
During the long and hot summer of 1930, 10 Smith students traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota with maps, hammers and knapsacks in hand. They were the first group of students to embark on the newly created summer field expedition course. Accompanied by professors Howard A. Meyerhoff and Robert F. Collins of the Smith College Geology department, and chaperoned by Mrs. Meyerhoff, these women marked their days in the field by climbing, jumping and crawling over the barren wilderness of the Badlands collecting fossils, rocks, and minerals for the College and gaining valuable in-field experience.
Students who participated in the expedition lived in hotels, cabins, and stayed at ranches. They worked six out of seven days a week, six to eight hours a day, coming to know the hills and rocks of the area intimately. They walked to their sites, or rode horses when necessary, dressed in flannel shirts, riding breeches, and steel-toed boots. Fieldwork was only part of the course. It also included a tour of the Homestake Mining Company, where the students operated a pneumatic drill 1250 feet below ground and learned the methods of recovering gold from the earth. It included lectures from the president of the South Dakota State School of Mines on the history of mining and the land. They panned for gold on a ranch in Piedmont.
Everywhere, the student’s stamina, spunk, and dedication surprised the locals. Describing their experiences, Robert Collins wrote in an article for the Smith Alumnae Quarterly: “Our prospective visit had been known and broadcast as early as December …It was clear that we were expected to give a ladylike course to a group of debutantes who thought rocks were ‘so charming.’ The reaction in many quarters was one of delighted surprise to find a party of hard-working students, out in rough clothes in all weathers and cheerfully liking what was unmistakable physical labor.”
The Black Hills Geological Expedition was off to a tremendous start. A group of students returned to the Black Hills in 1932 and made an important discovery of a rich trilobite zone in Deadwood. By the mid 1930s the Geology department could boast of the largest collection of Black Hills rocks then in existence.
What did such a trip cost? $550.00–well earned and well spent. Today the Geology department offers Interterm trips to the Bahamas and Death Valley, California, or Hawaii during the spring break. These programs continue to offer the important field experience that was so unique to Smith women in the 1930s.
Interested in learning more about the Black Hills Geological Expedition? Records are available in the College Archives.
Nanci Young College Archivist
Captions for photographs to accompany Past Tense on Black Hills Geological Expedition:
1. Panning for Gold in Piedmont, South Dakota, 1930. 2. Discovering a skull vertebrate, Summer 1930. 3. Measuring formations in Spearfish Canyon, Summer 1930. 4. Members of the 1932 Expedition at Mud Cave, Southern Hills. [Anne L. Allen ‘x35, Rebecca Rhodes ‘x35, Mary Church ’34,
Marion Brown ’34, Mary T. Bennett ’34, Althea Dobbins ’34, Lorraine McCutcheon ’35, Cornelia Weston (?)]
5. Members of 1932 Expedition with Professor Robert Collins.
Members of the 1930 expedition:
Janet Lloyd ‘29 Marion Hubbell, MA, Smith 1929 Marjorie Best ‘30 Constance Davison ‘30 Betty Baum ‘31 Elizabeth W. Olmsted ‘31 Eileen Creevey ‘32 Caroline Brown ‘33 Gertrude Olsen ‘33 Anne Scofield ‘33