It took nearly 50 years, but this mystery woman and her important work is a mystery no more
When one Twitter user stumbled across a photo showing a large group of people attending a conference in 1971, it was notable there was only one female attendee, a woman of color whose name wasn’t listed. The rest of the attendees were men, and each of them were recognized for their attendance. The female attendee remained the only person unidentified — and Twitter simply wasn’t having any of that.
Candace Jean Andersen shared the photo on Twitter and immediately a mission to solve the mystery of the woman’s identity was underway.
Hey Twitter I'm on a mission:
The woman in this photo was an attendee at a 1971 International Conference on Biology of Whales.
She is the only woman, & the only one captioned "not identified" in the article I found the photo in. All the men are named.
Can you help me know her? pic.twitter.com/MifZvdRXRr
— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 9, 2018
“The woman in this photo was an attendee at a 1971 International Conference on Biology of Whales,” Andersen tweeted. “She is the only woman, and the only one captioned ‘not identified’ in the article I found the photo in. All the men are named. Can you help me know her?”
Responses started pouring in immediately — people everywhere were ready to solve the mystery.
Thanks so much for all the retweets, everybody!— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 9, 2018
Here is a close-up of Mystery Woman, unfortunately mostly blocked from the camera.
The conference was in June (1971) in Virginia, with participants from 10 countries.
Why is *the only* woman listed as "not identified?" Arg! pic.twitter.com/eweEB1q9c9
Andersen was able to deduce the identity of the woman who helped organize the conference, who offered to look into it.
While we wait, other names have come in!— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018
A few of you have suggested **Matilene Spencer Berryman** (December 8, 1920–May 6, 2003). Seems plausible!
This was my first time hearing about Matilene. If it's your first time too, I encourage you to look her up! Read about her!
Other leads came through, while Anderson tried tirelessly to get in touch with the right people.
📢 Ahem, Twitter:— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018
Word came in from Robert (Bob) Brownell, conference attendee, back-middle in photo, who said Mystery Lady may have been admin.
"She worked for Clyde Jones at Fish and Wildlife Services in the early 1970s," he said. pic.twitter.com/oLtn1kALIR
"Reach out to Clyde to confirm!" I yell to myself...— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 11, 2018
...but unfortunately Clyde Jones has passed away.
And because sometimes, the internet is Good, Andersen was able to get a big boost in solving the mystery thanks to the diligent research conducted by fellow Twitter users who were also determined this woman got her due.
✨ Mystery Woman is in fact Sheila.— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
🌈 And I verified that because I’ve been in touch with her!
(Thanks so much to @straightAstoner and @themediawitch for narrowing the search.)
But, most importantly… pic.twitter.com/HQOHdMmHVl
What’s even crazier — although not entirely unbelievable for 1971 — was just HOW MUCH work Sheila Jones did in her field. And yet, she was THE ONLY PERSON not identified in the conference photo.
This is *just a fraction* of what I know thanks to scans sent to me by the A+ Deborah in Archives w/ the @Smithsonian; info dated 1972–'75:— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
She was a Biological Research Technician for Smithsonian Institution in (at least) 1972 & '73; a position which required a BS or MA degree. pic.twitter.com/vapBtEjEfy
She participated in a two-island study of the mammals inhabiting the Poplar Islands in 1973–1974, and presented her findings at the 55th Annual American Society of Mammalogists Meeting in 1975.— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
This included her belief of natural extinctions of some species on the islands. pic.twitter.com/bV3aKVwWIP
Sheila was giving lectures and guest speaking in schools, goddamn it. KNOW HER NAME.
She was a guest at K-12 schools; speaking at elementary schools and giving lectures in high school Biology classes.— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
She helped lead field trips and children’s study groups. pic.twitter.com/sOu2dDYuS7
She was appointed to the Smithsonian Women’s Council.— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
She was a member of the American Society of Mammalogists.
(All this is still just the years between 1972–1975.) pic.twitter.com/ImgILTPBf4
Sheila is an educated, accomplished, driven woman whose work has now — finally — been recognized, thanks to Twitter.
She later pursued environmental science, and received a MS from George Mason University.— Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 15, 2018
She worked for several Federal agencies in a 35-year career, and retired as a GS-14 from The Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC. pic.twitter.com/9vB78XeVEK
Basically, Sheila was a boss ass babe before that was even a thing, OK?
Twitter seems to agree, because the thread surrounding this mystery quickly went viral. People (hi, me) were invested in this.
This entire thread. Adding diversity in the sciences still needs work, and women in science still have some hills to climb, but there are groundbreaking POC who never get a mention. I'd consider this woman to be one of them. THEY FOUND HER! @hormiga @MatthewACherry https://t.co/jy7WWDFFx0
— Meredith Canode (@MeredithJCanode) March 15, 2018
This is a hugely important point. Even in 2018, careers in science are sorely lacking in diversity. The fact that Sheila Jones is being celebrated 50 years after attending a work conference where she was the only female is wonderful; it’s just sad it took this long. And that her identity was a mystery to be solved in the first place.
But damn, is this a great story.
— Andrea Burns (@HistoryAndrea) March 16, 2018
It is still women’s history month. And the internet is still a hopeful place. https://t.co/QFJa3YSpZI
— Rhea Butcher 🇵🇷 (@RheaButcher) March 15, 2018
Moments like this are why I love researching women in history. https://t.co/JPt3R6sz8y
— Sam (@SamMaggs) March 15, 2018
It’s stories like this one that perfectly demonstrate how amazing technology and social media can be, when used for good. If there were some sort of Twitter Research Award in existence, this would no doubt win by a landslide.
Until that’s a reality, we can all feel good about the discovery and recognition of a woman of color whose work played a significant role in her field.
Sheila Jones, we salute you.