Throughout almost all of history, people have been fascinated with gemstones. From this innate admiration, there as been a force that shoves us to figure out the best way to get the best stones. Today, it couldn't be easier. We know so much about them now, and you can just thumb through a book to get all you need or pull up an online page. But hundreds of years ago? You really needed to experiment, read, and get down into the mines. Here, we will be looking at the unsung heroes for gems: women. Unsurprisingly, they are criminally underrepresented, if not erased in certain areas. This does mean that someone like Martine de Bertereau, the first known female mineralogist, may remain as the first known, not the first ever, assuming those that came before her were indeed erased. One of the major problems that arises from this is the loss of knowledge. de Bertereau provided a lot of knowledge on how mining was conducted during her lifetime. So if her work was destroyed, the world may never have a full picture on how 17th century mining was conducted.
But let's get into more positive parts of the work: who were some of the most important women in gemology, mineralogy, and geology? Why were they important?
Martine de Bertereau was an early and important mineralogist who worked for the French government, believing that there was plenty of wealth to be found in France. Early in her life, she married another mineralogist, Jean du Chastelet. de Bertereau likely had an interest in mines and minerals from the fact that she had come from a mining family. In any case, she and her husband made several trips across Europe, and, supposedly, had even went down to South America for some time. The two were evidently good at their work, and du Chastelet even worked for the Hungarian government as a mining engineer. For a while, de Bertereau had avoided France's mines and its potential riches. The reason for this is almost certainly due to the fact that France's mining industry was in decline, and getting back into that would have been quite the investment. Therefore, it made more sense to build wealth outside of France.
Opportunity came knocking, however, when the French government requested that du Chastelet try and reinvigorate the mining industry that practically hobbled along. Even though the baron had been requested, it seems, one cannot underestimate the value de Bertereau's value in the couple's work. From her writings, she was clearly intelligent, experienced, and knew what to look for when prospecting. She wrote rules and guidelines that one should follow for finding ores. However, she also favored a diverse mining company, encouraging artists, architecture, astrology, surgery, medicine, language, and theology. de Bertereau was right, for sure, in that language and theology would be important for a company that wished to be successful. They had traveled across Europe, and into South America, so being able to have someone speak multiple languages could be incredibly useful. The same goes for religion.
The other important element from de Bertereau's works is that of finding water. Water has a special relationship with ores, minerals, and gems. There is a lot of science behind it, but finding water was important for mining, dealing with ores, and keeping the people in the area happy and healthy, as they needed water more than the miners. de Bertereau tells readers how the reader may find water through a divining rod, but more importantly, tells the reader of more reasonable ways of finding water. This marks a shift in the way that people may conduct mining science, first and foremost, but also tells us just how knowledgeable and experienced she was. Her advise on finding water through experiments and knowing the region shows a more rigid science than just dowsing. She also tried to create methods to ensure that the water she found was safe to drink. Even though the science at the time was limited, she was refining the process and making it more logical and reasonable than the pseudoscientific methods of the past. Through her, we obtain an interesting evolution of science.
de Bertereau was correct in that France had plenty of profitable land and ore. Even though she and her husband were financing the operations personally, they had found plenty of gems, gold, silver, and more. There were predictions about where other valuable resources could be found. Sadly, this would only be proven long after her death.
Despite all the good that she had done, her story has an unhappy ending. She and her husband were accused of using witchcraft to obtain their prosperity. The government had seized their supposedly hexed gains, dropped the charges, and sent them away. The couple had been received well outside of France and du Chastelet was given a distinguished position in Austria. But the couple could not accept the crushing defeat in France, especially after knowing what valuables lie beneath its crust. So, they returned, and du Chastelet was given the title of Inspector General. de Bertereau wrote to the king regarding the potential wealth in French mining. Later, she wrote again to the king's court, this time addressing Richelieu. However, this did not work, and the government once again accused the two of using witchcraft to obtain their wealth and all assets were seized. This time, they also accused one of the daughters. All three died while in prison. What provoked the government to do such things is not entirely clear. It is possible that the suspicion of astrology or witchcraft in de Bertereau's work was highly blown out of proportion, and the government thought that arresting the three was, in some way, just. The fact that de Bertereau was a woman may have also played a part, but they also accused her husband of being a witch. And finally, greed may have, in some way, played a part. It is possible that the government thought that the family found all they could in France, so they simply seized their wealth. This would prevent the government from having to reimburse the family, but it wasn't even paying de Bertereau to begin with.
She was, no doubt, highly influential and was later proved correct, as she suspected certain regions had profitable deposits. Her writings provide a truly unique look into how mining operations were conducted at the time while also showing a shift in science.
Anning has a unique spot on this list. We sell a lot of fossils on our website and Anning's works were highly influential in the realm of paleontology. She was barely given credit at all during her lifetime, if at all. She was barred entry into scientific societies. The reason was made abundantly clear: it was because she was a woman. Because of this, there was much strain placed on her finances.
Anning was born in 1799 and took to fossil-finding at an early age. Like with de Bertereau, this was because it seemingly ran in the family. Well, her father was interested in it anyway. So the two would often stroll along the beach and collect and sell fossils. Early in her life, it seemed that she was destined for greatness. Her brother, Joseph, found the skull of a peculiar beast. Mary, however, set out to find the rest of the thing. At this time, she was only about 12 years old, so this was quite the task. No matter, Anning spent some time searching and eventually was able to unearth the body that went to the skull. The thing was, nobody really knew what it was at the time. In reality, it would result in the first complete Ichthyosaur.
A little over 10 years later, in 1823, Anning made another groundbreaking discovery. Finding one complete specimen was already major in the realm of science. Anning, however, would find another complete skeleton, but this time of a different genus. She found a plesiosaur. There is no way to put out significant this was. The writings at the time suggest that it was indeed important, but Anning did not receive the credit she deserved.
About five years later, shooting for thirds, Anning would find the fossils of a pterosaur. This wasn't a first in the sense that it was the first pterosaur found. But this discovery was significant because it was discovered in England. Every other pterosaur at the time was found in Germany. Anning also played a role in pushing for the study of coprolite.
Anning unfortunately passed in 1847. Many of her major discoveries did not receive credit. Her work was not too profitable for her either, despite the fact that she played a significant role in making fossils popular to the average person. Only in more recent times is she being properly credited for her work.
Helen Dick Megaw, born in 1907, was an Irish scientist who made advances in crystallography. During college, Megaw was actually encouraged by her advisor to study mineralogy. She had proved to be great and varied scientist who eventually specialized in natural sciences and physics. Megaw, however, was informed that she seemingly could not advance in the physics department and was advised to instead to try the mineralogy department. Megaw's work there eventually carried her to a PhD involving the crystal structure of ice. She would later perform extensive and valuable research on the structure of barium titanite. It is a material with a variety of uses in optics and other devices. Regardless, the structure became known as perovskite, and she was the first to make a publication on it.
Megaw published two books, but never stopped doing research. Due to her work, primarily with that of barium titanite. She swiftly became a well respected and known expert in the field of crystallography. Because of her amazing work, the Mineralogical Society of America awarded Megaw with the Roebling Medal. Megaw was the first woman to be awarded with such a high honor.
Eunice Miles was born in 1917, a prominent American science in the GIA, or Gemological Institute of America. Like some of the others on the list, Miles developed an interest in gemstones at a young age, as her grandmother owned a variety of stones. In college, Miles studied geology, much to the annoyance of her male colleagues, a rather common thing on this list. However, she did build a reputation with her co-workers when working at the GIA labs. This primarily came from her knowledge of diamonds and diamond grading. During her time there, she galvanized research in diamond-coating. Specifically, she crafted a new identification technique for them.
Aside from research, Miles did a variety of extra work during her time at the GIA. She would instruct others, serve as a career counselor, and was honored as the GIA's historian when she retired. Her research on spotting fake coatings was influential and cited even by the FBI.
People should not be surprised that women have been making significant contributions in mineralogy, gemology, and geology. They have been doing so for centuries, clearly. A sad reality is that we may not know all that have impacted the world of stones due to the fact that women have had a severely underappreciated and uncredited role in several areas of society. However, on a happier note, we may celebrate those we do know and uphold their legacy. This list does not cover all that have existed, of course. There are several more famous women who have had a profound impact in the world of stones. Here we give you a glance. This is one list of many that could be made in an effort to give these women the well-deserved place in history.
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Divining the Enlightenment, by Michael R. Lynn
La Restitution, by Martine de Bertereau
How to Find Water, by Martina Kölbl-Ebert