First Women to the South Pole

Lois M. Jones

Led by Lois Jones (third from right), the first all-female research team reached the South Pole in 1969. Jones was part of an Ohio State team that also included (from left) Pam Young, Jean Pearson, Terry Lee Tickhill, Eileen McSaveney, and Kay Lindsay.

Lois M. Jones, then a geochemist at Ohio State, led the first all-female research team to the South Pole in 1969. Her group set out on an expedition to work on the ice and dispel the misconception that women could not physically travel to the ice-covered land. It marked the first year the U.S. Navy permitted American female scientists to travel to McMurdo Station, the main American base in Antarctica. The National Science Foundation had also done its part by lifting a ban on women participating in ice studies in the region. 

Jones, a three-time Ohio State graduate who earned a doctorate in geology in 1969, became well known for her research in the McMurdo Dry Valleys region, one of the few areas of Antarctica not covered by thick ice. Each experience by researchers in Antarctica helped to grow Ohio State’s reputation and the Byrd Polar Research Center, now home to some of the world’s leading experts on glaciers, polar weather, and climate change. The center celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010.   

After Ohio State, Jones served as assistant professor in the Department of Geology at the University of Georgia, senior research scientist for Conoco Phillips focusing on petroleum geology, and assistant professor of geology at Kansas State University. Upon her retirement, she returned to Columbus and volunteered in the English as a Second Language program. With a desire to leave a legacy for others, Jones endowed the Lois M. Jones Fellowship Fund in Geological Sciences and the Lois M. Jones Endowment for Cancer Research Fellowships. She passed away in 2000 at the age of 65. 

Following in a Pioneer's Footsteps

Katie Johnson, recipient of the Lois M. Jones Fellowship in Geological Studies

“If everyone who has benefited from the university could make a small contribution, the total would be amazing," says Katie Johnson.

As the recipient of the Lois M. Jones Fellowship in Geological Studies, Katie Johnson considered herself lucky. The financial award allowed her to devote time to her dissertation research.

“As a graduate student, you only have so many semesters of funding, so it is important to make as much progress as possible as quickly as possible,” said Johnson, a 2008 doctoral graduate in geology. “I am honored to have received financial assistance from the fellowship that was named for Dr. Jones and endowed by her. I am aware of who she was as a person—a great teacher, leader, and scientist.” 

Johnson is proud that the first all-women science expedition to Antarctica was affiliated with Ohio State. Her doctorate studies examined the responses of seafloor communities to changing climate in the late Cenozoic in the Southern Ocean. As a result of her expertise in sub-Antarctic foraminifera, she was selected as part of Antarctic Geological Drilling Program science team and spent two months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica in 2007. After graduating from Ohio State in 2008, she worked at Geomarine Research in search of biotic responses to climate changes in the deep ocean.

Johnson now holds a tenure track faculty position at Eastern Illinois University, where she serves as the science teacher certification coordinator and a member of the geology-geography department.

Like Jones, Johnson believes in helping others by giving annually to Ohio State. “I feel it is my responsibility to give to the university and to the School of Earth Sciences,” she said. “If everyone who has benefited from the university could make a small contribution, the total would be amazing.”

Johnson arrived at her philosophy of philanthropy after seeing her father give generously to causes he felt merited funding. “He has always seen education as an important endeavor, as do I,” she said. “If others had not given to various scholarships and awards, I would not have been able to concentrate on my research as fully I did while in graduate school, or I would not have been able to travel to professional conferences as a graduate student."

For these reasons, Johnson considers it her responsibility to give to Ohio State and the School of Earth Sciences. “While I cannot give extravagantly, I do make sure to give annually,” she said. “If everyone who has benefited from the university could make a small contribution, the total would be amazing.”

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