Geography's groundbreaker




Ellen Churchill Semple is hired by Wallace W. Atwood to join his newly established Graduate School of Geography. Born during the height of the Civil War to a prosperous Louisville, Kentucky family, the Vassar valedictorian’s interest in geography was fixed at the University of Leipzig, where she studied under noted anthropogeographer Friedrich Ratzel in the early 1890s. In a tribute after Semple's death in 1932, Atwood hailed her 1911 publication "Influences of Geographic Environment" as one that shaped "the whole trend and content of geographic thought in America."

Ellen Churchill Semple photographs

Above, left to right: Semple in her office at Clark; medals awarded to Semple by the Geographic Society of Chicago* and the American Geographical Society; map from Semple's book "American History and Its Geographic Conditions"; photographs of Semple* and Ratzel* taken in Leipzig, Germany. *Courtesy of the Kentucky Virtual Library.


Clark professor Susan Hanson (now Distinguished University Professor Emerita) becomes the first female geographer elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. She is also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The previous year Hanson was awarded the National Geographic Society's Van Cleef Medal for outstanding work in urban geography.

Did You Know?

A friendship with fellow Vassar classmate Stematz Yamakawa, later wife of the Japanese Minister of War, provided Semple with a rare opportunity (for a Westerner) to conduct research in Japan.

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