Ruth Patrick

Ruth Patrick
Patrick in 1976
Born (1907-11-26)November 26, 1907
Topeka, Kansas
Died September 23, 2013(2013-09-23) (aged 105)
Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Virginia
Awards National Medal of Science
Lewis L. Dollinger Pure Environment Award (1970)
Scientific career
Fields Botanist and Limnologist
Institutions Academy of Natural Sciences

Ruth Myrtle Patrick (November 26, 1907 – September 23, 2013) was an American botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology, who developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established a number of research facilities.

Early life and education

Ruth Patrick was the daughter of Frank Patrick, a banker and lawyer. Frank had a degree in botany from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and was a hobbyist scientist. He often took Ruth and her sister on Sunday afternoons to collect specimens, especially diatoms, from streams. This sparked a lifelong interest in diatoms and ecology. Ruth Patrick recalls that she "collected everything: worms, mushrooms, plants, rocks. I remember the feeling I got when my father would roll back the top of his big desk in the library and roll out the microscope... it was miraculous, looking through a window at the whole other world."[1] Ruth attended the Sunset Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri, graduating in 1925. Ruth's mother insisted that she attend Coker College, a women's school in Hartsville, South Carolina, but her father arranged for her to attend summer courses, through fear that Coker would not provide satisfactory education in the sciences. When she graduated in 1929, she then enrolled in the University of Virginia, earning a master's degree in 1931, followed by a Ph.D. in 1934.[2]


External video
Scientific Pioneer Ruth Patrick, 4:53, Philadelphia:The Great Experiment[3]

Ruth Patrick's research in fossilized diatoms showed that the Great Dismal Swamp between Virginia and North Carolina was once a forest, which had been flooded by seawater. Similar research proved that the Great Salt Lake was not always a saline lake. During the Great Depression, she volunteered to work as a curator of microscopy for the Academy of Natural Sciences, where she worked for no pay for eight years. She was payrolled in 1945. In 1947, she formed and chaired the academy's Department of Limnology.[4] She continued to work there for many years and was regarded as a talented and outstanding scientific administrator, in addition to her other scientific contributions.

Patrick's work on the Great Salt Lake in the 1930s used the history of diatoms in the sediments of the lake to prove the lake was once a freshwater body of water, and established some solid clues as to what caused the shift to saltwater.

In 1945 she invented the diatometer, a device to take better samples for studying diversity in water ecology. Patrick was a pioneer in the use of biodiversity to determine a body of water's overall health. Her work with both academics and industry giants like DuPont fostered an understanding of pollutants and their effect on rivers, lakes, and drinking water sources. President Lyndon B. Johnson sought her expertise on water pollution, and President Ronald Regan asked for her input on acid rain.[1]

Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements, including the Eminent Ecologist Award from the Ecological Society of America in 1972, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976,[5] the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 1993,[6] the National Medal of Science in 1996, the Heinz Award Chairman's Medal in 2002,[7] and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.[8] The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center in Aiken, South Carolina, is named after her. The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography gives out a Ruth Patrick Award "to honor outstanding research by a scientist in the application of basic aquatic science principles to the identification, analysis and/or solution of important environmental problems."[9] This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation R.M.Patrick when citing a botanical name.[10]

On November 17, 2007, a gala was held in honor of. Patrick's upcoming 100th birthday at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA. Notable guests included Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell.[11]

Personal life

Patrick was married twice. She retained her maiden name when writing scientific papers, at her father's request. Her husbands were Charles Hodge IV and Lewis H. Van Dusen Jr.[12] With Charles Hodge IV she had one son. Charles was an entomologist and a direct descendent of Benjamin Franklin.

Patrick died at a retirement home in 2013. She was 105.[13]


  1. 1 2 Rachel,, Swaby,. Headstrong : 52 women who changed science-- and the world (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780553446791. OCLC 886483944.
  2. Dicke, William (September 23, 2013), "Ruth Patrick, 105, a Pioneer in Science And Pollution Control Efforts, Is Dead", The New York Times
  3. "Scientific Pioneer Ruth Patrick". The Women of Philadelphia. Philadelphia:The Great Experiment. October 14, 2014. Archived from the original on March 16, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  4. Wasserman, Elga R. (2000). The door in the dream : conversations with eminent women in science. Joseph Henry Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-309-06568-2.
  5. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  6. "Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences Recipients". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  7. "The Heinz Awards :: Ruth Patrick".
  8. A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award Archived 2009-08-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. Ruth Patrick Award Archived 2007-07-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 1-84246-085-4.
  11. "Academy Throws Glittering Gala for Scientist Dr. Ruth Patrick's 100th Birthday".
  13. Zauzmer, Julie (23 September 2013). "Ruth Patrick, ecology pioneer, dies at 105" via
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