Stein, Barbara R. | On Her Own Terms. Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West

  • First edition, first printing of this groundbreaking biography of palaeontologist Annie Montague Alexander (1867-1950). Presentation copy inscribed by the author to filmmaker Ken Burns on the title page, “To Ken Burns – with best wishes, Barbara R. Stein”.

    Alexander was the independently wealthy daughter of a Hawaiian sugar plantation owner. When poor eyesight scuttled her hopes of a career in the arts she became interested in fossils and started financing her own paleontological expeditions, hiring women as well as men to assist her. She soon gained “the reputation for choosing the right places to dig for fossils. During an expedition to the black limestone region of Shasta county [California], she discovered a new reptile species, named Thalattosaurus alexandrae in her honor” (Ogilvie, Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, p. 20). Between 1901 and 1905 Alexander financed and led four major expeditions into Shasta county and the West Humboldt range in Nevada. Her 1905 Nevada expedition, known as the “Saurian expedition” resulted in the discovery of some of the finest ichthyosaur specimens known.

    Next Alexander began collecting living mammalian specimens, learning to make study skins in the field. It was while preparing for a collecting trip to Alaska in 1906 that she met Louise Kellog, who became her life-long partner. The two women lived and worked together until Alexander’s death in 1950, and they jointly ”contributed more than 34,000 specimens of fossils, plants, and animals to museums of the University of California” (Ogilvie).

    Alexander was also extremely influential as a financier, providing the funds to establish the Department of Palaeontology and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and working to develop them into leading research centres. She maintained control of the Museum until 1950, hiring and supporting palaeontologists, such as Joseph Grinnell, Alden H. Miller, and Charles L. Camp, who would make major contributions to the field.

    Several species, both living and extinct, have been named in Alexander’s honor, including “Hydrotherosaurus alexandrae, a Cretaceous plesiosaur from Fresno County; Swollenia alexandrae, a rare grass species from Inyo County; Shastasaurus alexandrae, a Triassic ichthyosaur; Alticamelus alexandrae, and a Miocene camel from near Barstow, California” (UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology biography). 

  • Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.

    Octavo. Original blue cloth, titles to spine gilt, blue endpapers. With the dust jacket. 16 double-sided plates from photographs. Some spotting and grey smudges to the lower edge of the text block. An excellent copy in the jacket that is very lightly rubbed with some creasing at the edges.