Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 25 Issue 04

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Volume 25, No. 4
Pages 32 - 39


Oceanography and Women: Early Challenges

Enrico Bonatti Kathleen Crane
Article Abstract

Today, oceanography is an active field of research that challenges hundreds of men and women. However, women scientists were not permitted to sail on oceanographic vessels up to the mid-1960s. This prohibition stems from ancient taboos reflected in myths and legends, starting with Homer’s Odyssey. An isolated pioneer was Jeanne Baret, a botanist who managed to sail disguised as a man on the 1676–1679 French expedition of L.A. de Bougainville; she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. No women sailed on the 1872–1876 Challenger Expedition, the first major scientific exploration of the ocean. No women were allowed on research vessels of US oceanographic institutions during the post-World War II years. An attempt by graduate student Roberta Eike in 1956 resulted in her dismissal from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The taboo against women at sea was broken at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1963, when two Russian scientists were invited to participate in a major expedition onboard R/V Argo. One turned out to be a woman—Elena Lubimova, a heat flow geophysicist. The taboo against women at sea prevailed also in Western Europe, but not in Russia. For instance, marine geologist Maria Klenova of Moscow’s Institute of Oceanology led major expeditions in the Arctic and Atlantic as early as the 1930s. The taboo against women at sea subsided gradually, and today women oceanographers sail freely on research vessels, contributing greatly to the progress of our discipline.


Bonatti, E., and K. Crane. 2012. Oceanography and women: Early challenges. Oceanography 25(4):32–39, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2012.103.


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