Women and Ornithology in Norway before 1980 (Part 2 of 3)

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

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Through interviews and digging in the archives at Stavanger Museum and the National Library, I have found several women. Their contributions are often hidden behind a male family member. Gertrud Bernhoft-Osa (nee Bauer (1903-1997)) left traces as a birdringer and as an unpaid assistant, editor, translator and secretary existing in the shadow of her husband. In this way, she joins a long line of talented women who joined family businesses with the main aim of promoting their husband’s honour.[1] When she met her husband in Germany, she was a secretary for the German ornithologists Dr Kurt Floericke. She moved to Norway in the 1920s and married Anders Bernhoft-Osa. In his memoirs, it says:

“The day before I travelled home again to Norway, I invited Dr Floericke to a farewell dinner at one of the better restaurants. His private secretary joined us. She was interested in birds. And this was a benefit when she later became my wife and, among other things, often accompanied me to the bird-station in Jæren.”[2]

The focus, in other words, was on her becoming his, and that she would remain with him, not on her competence in identifying birds, ringing birds, editing, translating or other ornithological work. And she was not even identified by name here. According to an oral source, the German teksts were either written or edited by Gertrud, but not credited to anyone or with Bernhoft-Osa named as the author in Sterna. Her name was never mentioned.[3] In addition to this, she was one of the few women who took part in ringmarking birds for an extended period of time and recorded the findings. These numbers are not documented before 1949, but it is probable that she contributed earlier than that. In the light of this, the man’s statement that she “was interested in birds” and “that she was very much with me” conceals both her competence and her work. She discovered new birds, recovered her own ringed birds, warned the man about storms and assisted him in his writing work, where he appeared as the sole author.

In the 1940s, Inger Meidell (nee Tambs-Lyche (1914-1991) ringed 1139 birds between 1940 and 1952 for the bird-ringing group at the University of Oslo.[4] At that time, no other woman had as many ringed birds recorded against her own name. When her husband Ove Meidell died in 1942, the famous biologist Kristine Bonnevie (1878-1948) wrote: “Without the steadfast and self.sacrificing help of his wife, Mrs Inger Meidells, would he scarcely have managed to complete this manuscript, which would obtain the university’s scientific recognition for the dying researcher.”[5] This shows that Meidell, as a volunteer, made an important contribution to Norwegian ornithological expertise in the 1940s as a bird-ringer, editor and secretary.

In the 1950s, two women called Anne Marie obtained their ornithological education at the University of Oslo. When I mentioned it to some veteran ornithologists, one of them suggested that it was almost certainly the case that this was the same woman, who had married and changed her surname. The two were called Anne Marie Grimeland (1923-2013) and Anne-Marie Sæther (1929- ). Both studied ornithology at the University of Oslo, married and worked at secondary schools, but they researched different birds (Lapwings/sanderlings vs black-headed gulls). The Anne-Maries have been forgotten since modern ornithological memory does not go back beyond what veteran ornithologists can remember today, that is approximately the 1960s with the exception of a small number of male role models.

Anne-Marie Grimeland was the country’s youngest student, when she began at the University of Oslo at the age of 16 in 1940. Her work was supported by a contribution from the Norwegian Research Council.[6] As a Cand. Real. graduate, she worked as a science teacher in Mo i Rana (1954-56) and became a member of the Norwegian Ornithological Society from 1958.[7] From 1958, she was a teacher at Nissen’s school. In 1966, she published the article “Ringmerkings-resultater for sandløper” (Ringing results for sanderlings) in Sterna, where she used data from ringing and recovery at Revtangen. In 1966, she published “Norske vipers trekk og vinterkvarter” (Norwegian lapwings’ migration and winter quarters) based on the recovery of 591 lapwings, most of which were ringed at Revtangen. She discussed causes of death and made tables and diagrams to visualise the results.[8]

Grimeland published several articles about sanderlings and lapwings while she worked as a science teacher at a secondary school. There were not many paid positions as ornithologists, so her chosen career became a hobby, combined with her teaching position and family life.

Kart laget av Anne Marie Grimeland for å vise gjenfunn av viper
Photo 4 A map made eby Grimeland to show the recover of lapwings. Source: NB. Sterna

Anne-Marie Sæther was born in Trondheim in 1929. She too received financial support (400kr from C. H. Homan’s bequest) to research black-headed gulls for her thesis.[9] She is mentioned as one of five women among the 65 Cand. Real. candidates at the University of Oslo in 1951.[10] She gave a talk about the black-headed gull on NRK radio in the series Birds in the North.[11] She was also consulted as a specialist on black-headed gulls and contributed information on the common tern and the Arctic tern for the book Birds in the North.[12] Sæther was one of the first female ornithologists, who also communicated her expertise on the radio and contributed to the development of Nordic science. In addition to this, she published articles in Sterna about black-headed gulls and worked as a teacher at a secondary school.[13]

As previously mentioned, there were few women involved in ringing under their own names before the 1950s. One was the Dane Harriet I. Jørgensen (1906-1979), who was first a representative for Det Store Nordiske Telegrafselskab and later worked at the ornithological department of the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen. She was born on Ærø and her chemist father was also interested in birds. In 1940, she published a book on birds Glossarium Europeae Avium, where she translated bird’s names into 17 European languages. In 1952, she went to Utsira as a volunteer to ring birds there (ref. Holgersen). Later, she donated a significant library to the Norwegian Ornithological Soceity via the Zoological Museum in Oslo.[14] Jørgensen contributed in a number of different ways to Norwegian and European ornithology. Primarily as a volunteer bird-ringer and author, but also through job at the ornithology deparment of the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen for more than 25 years.

Harriet Jørgensen
Harriet Jørgensen[15]

In the 1960s, more women becane ornithologists, bird-ringers and members of ornithological societies. Joan H. Haavie came from the USA and was an expert on gepphus grylle (black guillemot). She moved to Norway with her husband and worked at the newly established Zoophysiology Institute at the Unviersity of Oslo.

havutsikt på Utsira
Spannholmen, Utsira. Photo taken by Harriet Jørgensen in 1952[16]

She carried out fieldwork on Tranøy for several years, to research the behaviour and breeding activity of black guillemots and the biotopes of various types of gull. When Myrberget published an article on ringing sea birds in Sterna, the collaboration with Haavie was highlighted as especially useful.[17] She also edited articles and translated ‘summaries’ and ‘corrected’ English texts for various zoological publications.[18] Sometimes she is listed as Mrs Haavie, at other times with MA or MS or MSc following her name.[19] This points to uncertainty among those involved about the American degree designation Master of Science. Joan H. Haavie made a contribution to Norwegian ornithology in the 1960s by applying and further developing her expertise in sea birds, as well as in the development of knowledge, and the linguistic work involved in publishing, even though she was not named when the Institute’s history was written.[20]

Read part 3

[1] Pnina G Abir-Am and Dorinda Outram (eds) Uneasy careers and intimate lives: women in science 1789-1979, Rutgers U Press, New Brunswick, 1987.

[2] Anders Bernhoft-Osa, Folk og fugl ([Oslo]: Cappelen, 1976), 105.

[3] Interview with Yngve Johnson, 21.12.2001.

[4] Hjalmar Broch and Per Fjeld, “Bird-Banding in Norway,” Sterna, no. 15 (1953): 3.

[5] Kristine Bonnevie, “Zoologen Ove Meidell,” Rogaland, November 30, 1942. Ove Meidell received the King’s Gold Medal from the university for “A comparative study of the way of life of the European pied flycatcher (Muscicapa Hypoleuca L.) and the common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus L.) in a mountainous area in south Vestland (Rogaland)”.

[6] Holger Holgersen, “Zoologisk Avdeling,” in Stavanger Museum Årbok 1966 (Stavanger, 1967), 152. Furthermore, the Research Council funded Mrs Else Aasland as a technical assistant at the zoology department of the museum for an additional year.

[7] “Den Høgre Skolen i Mo Begynte Skoleåret i Dag,” Rana Blad, August 24, 1956. ; Anne-Marie Grimeland, “Ringmerkingsresultater for sandløper,” Sterna, 1967.

[8] Anne-Marie Grimeland, “Norske Vipers Trekk Og Vinterkvarter,” in Stavanger Museums Årbok 1966 (Stavanger, 1967).

[9] Universitetet i Oslo, Årsberetning: samt universitetets matrikkel for. 1950/51 (Oslo: Universitetet, 1950), 450.

[10] Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige forskningsråd: Komité for vitenskapelig personell, Matrikkel over Norges realister 1907-1962 (1963): med statistisk bearbeiding av materialet, Norbok (Oslo: Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige forskningsråd, Komite for vitenskapelig personell, 1964), 43.

[11] Indre Akershus Blad 1951.06.09, Indre Akershus Blad (Viken;Aurskog-Høland, 1951), 6.

[12] C. T. Holmström and Fridthjof Økland, Fuglene i Norden. 3: Lappedykkere-hønsefugler, Fuglene i Norden (Oslo: Oslo : Aschehoug, 1952-1953, 1953), 178. In 1951 “around 500 pairs” of black-headed gulls nested in Kurefjorden. Pp. 178, 204, 207.

[13] Bodø videregående skole, Bodø videregående skole: 1880-1980 (Bodø: Skolen, 1980), 65. From 1954-56.

[14] Sterna 1966 vol 7 nr.1, “Norsk ornitologiske forening årsberetning”, p.33; Torben Wolf «Personalia Harriet Jørgensen 23.januar 1906- 13. december 1979», DOFT 1980, p.82

[15] Torben Wolff “Personalia Harriet Jørgensen 23. januar 1906 – 13. december 1979” downloaded 20.08.2021.

[16] Photograph taken by Harriet Jørgensen in 1952,  in Martin Nag “Fyr: Folkeliv på Utsira“, 1991, p.72, downloaded 23.08.2022.

[17] Svein Myrberget, ««Metoder for fangst av sjøfugler for merking», Sterna vol. 8 booklet 3 p. 105.

[18] E K Barth, “Standard body measurements in Larus Argentatus, L Fuscus, L canus, and L Marinus, Contr. # 79, Zoological Museum, UiO; Sig. Kristoffersen “Vandringer, aldersfordeling og beskatning av lirype på Karlsøy, Troms, 1964, p. 3, 12; Svein Myrberget, “Viltmerkinger ved Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund”, 1965, p. 3, 17; Svein Myrberget “Den norske bestand av bever castor fiber“, Statens viltundersøkelser 2. series nr. 26, 1967; Svein Myrberget, “Vekslinger i bestandsstørrelsen hos norske smågnagere i årene 1946-60” Statens Viltundersøkelser 2. series nr. 19, pp. 4, 47-48.

[19] Edvard K. Barth “Geographical variations on mantle colour body measurements, and egg data in Larus Argentatus, L Fuscus, L Canus and L Marinus”, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo, 1968, several pages from Nytt Magasin for Zoologi

[20] Per S. Enger Zoofysiologisk institutt. Avdeling for generell fysiologi, Biologisk institutt, Oslo, 2007 Zoofysiologisk institutt, Avdeling for generell fysiologi (nb.no) read 25.08.2022.

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