Alice Evelyn Wilson was born on 26 August, 1881, in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. As a child, she loved to go exploring. Near her family’s home were huge limestone formations. Sometimes Alice would discover a fossil – the skeleton of a fish or the veins of a leaf – and she wanted to learn the story of these unusual stones.
In 1901, Alice went to university to become a teacher. She didn’t really want to teach, but there were so few other career options for women that she decided to make the best of it. However, in 1904, just before she completed her studies, Alice became ill. She had to stop studying. When she recovered, she took a job in the geology department at a museum and realised that studying rocks was all she wanted to do.
In 1909, Alice began to work as an assistant at the Geological Survey of Canada. At this time, many people believed that this wasn’t a “ladylike” occupation for a woman to have. Alice was told that she should be indoors, not studying rocks in open fields. Her co-workers didn’t allow her to come on field trips with them, but Alice was determined. She took her bicycle to explore the Ottawa–Saint Lawrence Valley on her own. She studied this area for fifty years! During that time, she learned the story of the whole region.
Gaining recognition for her work was difficult. Alice wanted to study for her doctorate, but because a woman had never achieved a geology doctorate before, she was refused permission. It took years of hard work, but she finally received her doctorate at the age of 49.
In 1937, Alice became the first female member of the Royal Society of Canada. She was now a respected scientist. Even after she retired, she continued exploring the outdoors – despite being told so many times that she should behave in a ladylike way.
Alice Wilson died in Ottawa on 15 April 1964, at eighty-two years of age. Her determination and enthusiasm had paved the way for other young female scientists.