Being Nancy Drew: My Apprenticeship on the 150 Years of Women Project

From URAP Mahathi Kandimalla, Public Health and History major.                                    Note from MK: Our Spring 2021 apprentice Mahathi Kandimalla, a sophomore, worked on the write-ups for the 150Women celebration research for the Berkeley Natural History Museums. The profiles are now available on our 150 Years of Women at Berkeley Natural History Museums website.

                                                                                                        Image Credit: Designed by Rakka on 05/16/2013; Modified by Mahathi Kandimalla

Whether it was perusing through biographies or looking up birthdays on online registries of gravestones, there was a certain excitement ascribed to my job as an apprentice at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. My main task consisted of writing articles for the 150 years of women project. While I always have had a passion for writing, I never thought I would come to enjoy going down rabbit holes while investigating the astounding women of the MVZ. I not only searched up the women’s histories, but I also went through numerous documents detailing the time frame and environment in which they worked. At times, the tidbits I found about the wages during the great depression or the price of asparagus did not fit into the overarching narrative provided in the articles. However, they immensely grew my knowledge and provided a deeper understanding of the lives these women were leading. It showed me that every bit of detail, no matter the importance or grandeur, deserved a closer inspection.

 One such investigation led me to connect with the City of Mill Valley Public Library. Several biographies written about Barbara Blanchard DeWolfe, a former student at the MVZ and professor at UCSB, indicated that she was from Mill Valley. Despite being younger than many of the other MVZ women, Barbara did not have many photos of herself on the internet. That led me to reach out to the historical center in Mill Valley to see if they had a high school yearbook from the year Barbara went to High School. I was referred to the Lucretia Little History Room at the Mill Valley Public Library. They provided me with accounts of costume parties held in celebration of Barbara’s accomplishments and other clippings detailing her academic and personal achievements. A search for a yearbook picture turned into an examination through multiple newspaper clippings accounting for Barbara’s entire life. While we could not include all the information from the newspapers in our write-up, the insights into her life showed her connection to her family and her tenacity for academic achievement.

                                                                                                                                              Image Credit: Lucretia Little History Room at the Mill Valley Public Library

 While some inquiries led to learning more about a person’s childhood or professional achievements, others shed light on the women’s work environment. Margaret Wythe, for example, worked as the inspector of foreign birds for the United States Bureau of Biological Survey. This factoid, when taken at the surface level, is not astonishing. However, a deeper look into the work environment and discriminatory practices affecting women during that era shed light on the determination and grit of Margaret. Therefore, it made me realize that facts are always represented better when put into the context of their time.

 Overall, learning more about the MVZ women through their biographies and various sources helped me pool together articles about them. They are courageous, bold, and intelligent women who deserve to have their stories told and celebrated. To encapsulate their greatness in an article required the constant digging through various resources as it provided a more holistic understanding of the women. Even if the information was not directly used, it helped me formulate a story that accurately represented the great MVZ women. They deserved a Nancy Drew to gather a narrative, and I tried to emulate that energy when exploring their lives.

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A Pandemic Apprentice

From URAP Cheyenne Bridge, Chemical Biology and Marine Science major.
Note from MK: 2020 was a challenging year for archives worldwide and the MVZ Archives was no exception. Our new Spring 2020 apprentice Cheyenne Bridge, a freshman, had just started to familiarize herself with the physical collections and routines of the MVZ when we had strict campus, county, and then state shelter-in-place orders. Nonetheless she agreed to continue some of the work remotely, ultimately helping shape the 150Women celebration research for the Berkeley Natural History Museums. We will update this post with links as these profiles become public.


Given that my apprenticeship in the archives occurred during the virus, my time with the MVZ was unique. While I wasn’t able to be present in the museum for a portion of my internship, I was a part of a project about 150 Years of Women at Berkeley. In particular, I studied the lives and contributions of Women in the Natural Science fields who had a tie to Berkeley, and the stories I read about certainly put an end to the quarantine boredom. Not only are the women I read about incredibly influential in their respective fields, they are also daring, adventurous, compassionate, and truly pushed the bounds in their personal and professional lives.

My favorite glimpses into these womens’ lives include Ynés Enriquetta Julietta Mexía, an intrepid collector who continued her specimen collecting journey up the Amazon river after falling off a cliff. As well as Lester Rowntree ,who realized she wasn’t one for married life so she traveled up and down the coast of California surviving on 10 cents a day. And one cannot go without mentioning Sister Monica Ashman, who was an entomologist and couldn’t give up her beloved mosquito colony so she raised them in the convent; later she gained her infamy after she was featured in the New York Times under the headline, “University of California hires Catholic sister to sterilize males”, referring to her work with male mosquitos. And finally, Annie Alexander, who founded and helped fund the MVZ and UCMP, and went on daring species collecting expeditions including one where she was trapped for weeks. These are just a few of the numerous amazing anecdotes I read about these amazing women., These women and their stories deserved to be shared; they have an enduring impact on the world and I am so glad I got the chance to know them, and hopefully more people will continue to learn of their invaluable contributions.

Ynes Mexia

Google celebrating Ynes Mexia



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Exciting updates for the Archives

Last Fall, we wrapped up our IMLS Museums for America grant called “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology”. It allowed us to address long-term needs of the archives including critical housing and preservation issues for our most fragile materials. This included converting a collection room from general purpose storage to a dedicated Archives Collection room.

Before, it was used for storing pretty much anything: reprints, old administrative files, excess paper, party and event supplies, vacuum cleaners, even dead computers! The shelves were bolted and fixed creating cramped aisles.

We removed everything, found more appropriate storage for all the materials (don’t worry, we didn’t throw out all the CalDay supplies!) and started work.

This meant that the museum staff had to endure almost of year of boxes and storage carts in almost every conceivable place in the museum while the room was upgraded with high density shelving on rails.

We chose handsome blue endplates for our new units to break up the white of the walls, shelves and concrete floors. Continue reading

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History wrapped in history

While rehousing the Benjamin Hoag papers, I came across some field notes wrapped in a piece of paper. The Hoag papers date from 1878-1916. The wrapping paper looks to have notes written by Milton Ray, an ornithologist and oologist whose papers also reside at the MVZ. I assume that the Hoag egg collection was bought by Ray and then later donated to the MVZ.

What’s interesting is that on the back of Ray’s notes is a schedule of sessions dated September 11-12, 1942.  Continue reading

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Cool Camp Site

Written by URAP Sierra Abasolo, a third-year history major participating in the IMLS, “Strategic Stewardship for Sustaining the Archives of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology” project. Spring semester 2018.

This photo (MVZ 11158) was captured by Otto Emerson near the base of Mount Diablo in Pine Canyon. The photo shows the camp of Walter E. Bryant and Otto W Emerson in March of 1887. Emerson was known for collecting environmental samples as a sort of hobby of his, so these men may have been out to expand their research.

This photo stood out to me as I was sorting through hundreds of photos because of the extravagant looking tent in the background that caught my attention. Continue reading

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