November 26, 1907: Birth of Ruth Patrick. “Dr. Ruth Myrtle Patrick (November 26, 1907 – September 23, 2013) was a botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities.
Dr. Patrick’s research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake. During the Great Depression, she volunteered to work as a curator for the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she worked for no pay for ten years. Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements, including the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 1993, the National Medal of Science in 1996, the Heinz Award Chairman’s Medal in 2002, and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken, South Carolina, is named after her.”
One of the many values her father instilled in her, Patrick was fond of saying, was: “Leave the world a better place for having passed through it.” Patrick attended Sunset Hill School, now Pembroke Hill School, in Kansas City. Despite her mother’s desire that she simply learn social graces and marry well, Patrick went on to study biology.
When Dr. Patrick married Charles Hodge, an entomologist, in 1931, Frank Patrick asked him if she could keep her maiden name. In an interview Dr. Patrick recalled her father’s explanation: “I want the name Patrick to amount to something in science.’
Commentary: In 1974, I took a course on biological limnology from this amazing woman. She brought in luminaries such as Luna Leopold noted fluvial morphologist to give lectures as well as providing some of the most interesting classes herself. One anecdote that that was told to me while I was taking her class concerns some work she did during WWII. She was asked to identify organisms from scrapings on the hulls of German U-boats that had been captured. Her knowledge of diatoms was so encyclopedic that she pinpointed the location of the U-boat pens, which helped the Allies destroy them.