Matilda Coxe Stevenson 18491915

Charles M. Bell (18481893)
Albumen silver print, c. 1875

National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Raised in an era when women were largely barred from the sciences, Matilda Coxe Stevenson challenged social mores and studied to become a mineralogist. Her marriage in 1872 to noted geologist James Stevenson provided her with an opportunity to do more than simply read scientific literature. Often traveling with him throughout the West, she assisted at first in the effort to collect specimens, but in time she became an equal partner in gathering information and authoring scholarly articles.

The Stevensons concentrated much of their work in the Southwest, residing for a part of each year with a different Native American community. Following her husband’s death in 1888, Matilda Stevenson continued this work under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology, in the process becoming the first professionally employed woman in the field of anthropology.

A vocal advocate for women’s rights, Stevenson, along with Alice Fletcher, was also responsible for introducing the first federal legislation to preserve archaeological sites.