Weeks, Alice M. D. (earth scientist)

 

(1909-1988) American Mineralogist

Alice M. D. Weeks is one of the top pioneering women of geology. She achieved positions of responsibility and respect for her work in geology at a time when women were scarce in the profession. The road was not an easy one, but her tenacity carried her to success in the end. She worked in many positions below her ability, such as a draftsperson, as well as an instructor and teacher in many capacities to earn her wings in geology. In the end, she broke through this social barrier and established herself as one of the experts on uranium mineralogy in the years when uranium exploration was one of the most important fields in geology, thanks to the cold war. Most of this research involved the defining of many new uranium minerals and their occurrence as well as compounds with other radioactive elements. This work includes the processes involved in concentrating the ore, as well. She considered many of these processes both under high temperature hydrothermal conditions as well as at near surface conditions related to clay mineralogy. Much of this research was conducted in the southwestern United States (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas), among others. Several important papers resulting from this research include “Mineralogy and Oxidation of the Colorado Plateau Uranium Ores” and “Coconninoite a New Uranium Mineral from Utah and Arizona.”

Even after she achieved her well-earned position of authority, Alice Weeks was forced to dress as a man to gain access to many of the uranium mines to obtain samples. There were superstitions against allowing women into mines in those times. It is a wonder that Weeks achieved an illustrious career in the face of such adversity.

Alice Mary Dowse and her twin sister, Eunice, were born on August 26, 1909, in Sher-born, Massachusetts. After being home schooled in her early years, Alice received diplomas from Sawin Academy and Dowse High School in Sher-born in 1926. She attended Tufts University, Massachusetts, and earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and science, cum laude, in 1930. Upon graduation, she taught at the Lancaster School for girls in Massachusetts for 2- years be fore returning to Tufts University to attend several geology courses. Alice Dowse did her graduate studies at Harvard University, Massachusetts, and earned a master of science degree in 1934, but was financially unable to continue toward her doctorate. It is reported that she was not permitted to attend certain classes because she was female and was forced to sit in the hall outside of the classroom to take notes. She accepted a research fellowship at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, in 1934 for one year and remained a second year as a laboratory instructor. She returned to Harvard University in 1936 to work toward her doctorate. She also began teaching at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, first as an instructor and later as a member of the faculty. Between the time constraints and rationing during World War II, it took until 1949 before she was finally awarded her doctoral degree. She mapped two 721--minute quadrangles in Massachusetts under the supervision of marland p. billings.

In May of 1950, Alice Dowse married Dr. Albert Weeks, a petroleum geologist. In 1949, she took a leave from Wellesley College to work for the U.S. Geological Survey. It became a career position in 1951 when Weeks became a project leader in uranium mineralogy through the Trace Elements Lab. Most of this work was done in the area of the Colorado Plateau. In 1962, she left the U.S. Geological Survey to build a geology program at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When she retired to professor emeritus in 1976, the department had seven full-time faculty and 14 full-time graduate students to her credit. Alice Weeks died of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease on August 29, 1988.

Alice Weeks conducts research using a reflecting petrographic microscope in 1958

Alice Weeks conducts research using a reflecting petrographic microscope in 1958

Alice Weeks led a very productive career. She is an author of numerous articles and reports in international journals, professional volumes, and governmental reports. Her research on uranium mineralogy is published in seminal papers in several top-quality journals. In recognition of her contributions, the uranium mineral “weeksite” was named in her honor. Weeks performed significant service to the profession. She was a charter member of the Women Geoscientists Committee of the American Geological Institute. She was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and to all other societies of which she belonged. She served on numerous committees for the Geological Society of America and the Mineralogical Society of America.

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