By Sonoe Nakasone, Field Book Project
Why should Doris Cochran receive only brief notes? One, others have documented her career better than I can here. Two, I wanted to highlight Cochran, but unfortunately, the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) does not have many of Cochran’s field notes. As this blog focuses on field note related topics, the lack of Cochran field notes is problematic; I can only briefly touch on the few materials at SIA regarding Cochran’s field research.
Women have struggled to gain acceptance and equality in the sciences and many other arenas, which is why we celebrate the history of women at least once a year during the month of March. Doris Cochran was no exception to the number of women at the Smithsonian who fought to advance in their careers. “The Clutter Museum” author Leslie M-B carefully documents the difficulties Cochran faced in lobbying for her due status and pay at the Smithsonian in this 2006 article. (Leslie M-B’s article is a must read.)
The SIA collection “Doris Mable Cochran Papers, circa 1891-1968” contains several typescript drafts for publications, correspondence, and notes on specimens that other people collected. Cochran’s long SI career began in 1919 before she completed her Masters in Zoology. There is a lot of other people’s “stuff” in Cochran’s collection, probably because she was first hired as the trusted aid to Leonhard Stejneger, who headed the Division of Reptiles and Batrachians, then Assistant Curator in 1927, Associate Curator in 1942, then acting head of the Division after Stejneger’s death in 1943. I hoped to find field notes from either of her field trips to South America (1935 and 1962-1963) with noted Brazilian herpetologists Adolpho and Bertha (Adolpho’s daughter) Lutz. Fortunately, SIA has a travelogue from her 1962-1963 trip containing natural history notes and references to herpetological specimens collected. Also included are frog photographs from her 1962-3 trip, an essay summarizing her earlier South American collecting trip in 1935, and an essay entitled “Collecting Frogs in Brazil” (ca. 1935).
The 1962-3 travelogue documents Cochran’s National Science Foundation funded trip to visit museums in Brazil and Colombia and collect frog specimens, building on the collections she made in 1935. There’s a slight possibility Cochran did not write the travelogue. The small, leather bound volume was given to Cochran about a month before her trip, but the entries often refer to “Doris”: either Cochran liked to refer to herself in the third person, or the travelogue belonged to someone else. Whether or not the travelogue is Cochran’s, it is invaluable for its itinerary information, event highlights, and descriptions of surrounding flora and fauna. The photos of frogs from this trip, although not labeled with species names, are also valuable documents of Cochran’s field work.
Cochran’s essay about her 1935 trip to South America, although not field notes, contains a first-hand account of a collecting event. The essay provides names of collecting localities, names of accompanying collectors (such as Joaquim Venancio), and notes on the frogs, new genera and species of fish, and other biological specimens collected. In Cochran’s “Collecting Frogs in Brazil,” she delved deeper into the 1935 trip by including names of specific specimens collected and anecdotes describing the circumstances in which the specimens were collected.
As Leslie M-B notes, by the very end of Cochran’s career, she was finally promoted to her desired pay grade, but did not receive the title she lobbied for. Yet, Cochran didn’t seem to let such persistent prejudice affect her work. She continued to work until her forced retirement, one month before her death.