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Janet Watson, FGS (1923-1985): the first female President of the Geological Society

Janet Watson

Watson on the right, the only female delegate attending this excursion to South Finland during the International Geological Congress of 1960. (LDGSL/1078/A/63).

  Watson & officers
  Watson as President of the Geological Society, 1983. (GSL/POR/54/2). Click to enlarge.

Janet Vida Watson, one of the most distinguished geologists of her age, was the first woman to be elected to serve as President of the Geological Society.

The second daughter of the eminent vertebrate palaeontologist D.M.S. Watson and the embryologist Dr Katherine Parker, Janet Watson was born in Hampstead, London. She studied General Science at Reading University, graduating with a first class honours in 1943.

She spent the War years first working for the National Institute for Research in Dairying (correlating the growth of chickens with diet which she found dull) then teaching biology at a girls’ school in Bournemouth.

H H Read   
H H Read, 1954. (GSL/POR/53/64).  

After the War, Watson decided she wanted to be a hard rock geologist. For her father, this meant studying under Herbert Harold Read (1889-1970) at Imperial College.

On entering Imperial in 1945, she found herself to be the only woman in the department apart from Read’s secretary and the cleaners. She took her degree in two years, graduating with another first class honours.

Her PhD followed in 1949 and that same year she was awarded a Senior Studentship from the Royal Commission of the Exhibition of 1851. In 1952 she was appointed H H Read’s Research Assistant and finally granted a personal professorship at Imperial College in 1974, a post she held until her retirement in 1983. Watson was elected the Society’s first female President, serving between 1982 and 1984.

Although her interests were wide, it is probably Watson’s pioneering work on the Precambrian rocks of Scotland, frequently alongside her husband John Sutton (1919-1992), which has had the most significant impact on modern geological science.

Click on the links to find out more:

Highland geology
  Lewisian thumb
   Great Bernera
Migmatites of Sutherland   Lewisian Complex   Outer Hebrides

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