Women and Ornithology in Norway before 1980 (part 1 of 3)

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By Ann Elisabeth Laksfoss Cardozo, Associate Professor, University of Stavanger

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Before 1980, ornithology in Norway was seen as a very masculine field. Few women were members of ornithological societies or studied zoology with birds as their main area of research at Norwegian universities. Does that mean that women did not contribute to ornithological knowledge before 1980?

Were no women involved in ornithology? Or, was it the case, as in several other areas of research and nature, that a process of omitting, forgetting and excluding certain types of knowledge and experience had happened at the expense of others? The visibility of more everyday activities to obtain an overview of bird populations, change and continuity within one or more species has occupied volunteer ornithologists for a long time. The work has not always been high-status within ornithological circles. My goal is to highlight women’s contribution to ornithological knowledge in Norway. Women have contributed by ringing birds, being active members of ornithological associations, funded research or trained as ornithologists at university. I have also focused on documentation of scientific and public engagement activities and included a taxidermist.

The inspiration for this post comes from an article in progress about ornithology from the perspective of gender. Professor, criminologist, birder and author Kjersti Ericsson published an article in 1993 on gender perspectives and Norwegian ornithology. The Swedish article På Spaning efter kvinnors avtryck (On the lookout for women’s footprints) in Vår Fågelverd (Our Bird World) from 2021 was also an inspiration.[1] It deals with women’s contributions to Swedish ornithology before 1950 and includes, among others, Swedish noblewomen who hunted, had cagebirds and collected wild birds (like goldfinches and greenfinches). A group of women who have been left out of the histories are those who worked at museums. Two examples are the Swedish conservator and taxidermist Carolina Christiansson (1832-1924) at the Swedish Uddevalla Museum from 1864 to 1912.

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A Snow Bunting stuffed by Carolina Christiansson, Photo: Bohusläns museum, CC BY-NC ND

A similar “taxidermist” Marie Vatne (1855-1916) worked at Stavanger Museum from 1882-1904. She was recruited as a “taxidermist” with her father, the curator Thor Thorsen Vatne, and received two weeks’ training from curator Iversen at the zoological museum in Christiania before she started. Marie continued at the museum after her father died, when the museum also employed Jakob Sørensen. Marie married him when he became a widower and they lived in the museum’s porter residence. When her husband died, Marie Sørensen lost both her job and her home, but continued as a “taxidermist” from a rented room. Marie Sørensen’s contribution as taxidermist led to visitors at Stavanger Museum being able to see ever more birds on display. Her contribution is documented in the museum’s annual reports from the natural history section. When the Norwegian Ornithological Society published its Norwegian Ornithological History in 1982, the only women who were mentioned were those who were named by the Italian Pietro Quereni who was shipwrecked near Røst in 1431.[2] Quereni described the relationship between wild ducks (Eider Ducks) and the local women.[3]

Read part 2

[1] Kjell Danell and Ingvar Svanberg «På spaning efter kvinnors avtryck» in Vår Fågelverd. 2021, nr. 3. Thanks to librarian Bente K Hadland at Stavanger Museum library for directing me to this.

[2] Helge A Wold «Ærfuglen i nordnorsk kystkultur» in Suul, J. Norsk ornitologisk historie NOF, Trondheim, 1982, s. 34.

[3] For more on Eider Duck culture, see: Pietro Querini Querinis beretning – Om et grusomt forlis og opphold på Røst i 1432 Cappelen Damm forlag: Oslo, oversatt av Marie Aalen.

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