Even assuming everything this year goes to plan, I won’t be the first in my family to get a phd. The first in my generation, yes. And I don’t think there was anyone in my parents’ generation or my grandparents’, though I could be wrong. My Dad’s dad, who was an engineer with a master of arts and a master of science, and used to do experiments on blocks of asbestos at home, was I think working on a phd on some sort of esoteric theology when he died. But Ida Brown, my great great aunt (my maternal grandma’s aunt), got a doctorate of science in paleontology in 1932. How cool is that?
She had been born on 16 August 1900 at Paddington, Sydney, daughter of William George Brown, an insurance clerk from New Zealand, and his wife Alison, née Logan, a Sydneysider. Educated at Fort Street Girls’ High School and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1922; D.Sc., 1932), Ida graduated with first-class honours and the university medal in geology. Having briefly held a science research scholarship, she demonstrated in geology at the university until 1927. That year she was awarded a Linnean Macleay fellowship which enabled her to develop geological investigation of the South Coast, a study in which she combined field-mapping with laboratory work in petrology. She travelled extensively abroad, attending scientific congresses and research institutes.
Ida returned to demonstrating at the university early in 1934 and next year succeeded W. S. Dun as assistant-lecturer in palaeontology, once she had hurriedly acquired new expertise. Promoted lecturer (1940), in 1941 she published a notable paper on fossiliferous Silurian and Devonian sequences of the Yass district. She had successfully negotiated the shift from hard-rock to soft-rock geology, both in her research and teaching. More distinctly palaeontological papers on Palaeozoic invertebrates (especially brachiopods) followed, as did studies in palaeontological stratigraphy. Ida became a senior lecturer in 1945, but resigned in August 1950.
She apparently was quite a star, taught at Sydney University for years, and was known internationally. When she was 50, she married William Rowan Browne, also a geological hot-shot. My Grandma said this created quite a stir (I think they’d all given up on her). Anyway, they both retired, but continued their work together, joining each other on field trips. How sweet is that?
And when she married, she gained a silent ‘e’. I wonder how she thought about that: an unobtrusive gift you can see but not hear. Her own name but different, augmented. Quietly new.