Her expert eye revealed secret origins of wartime attacks on U.S. Pacific coast

Julia Gardner, one of the first women geologists hired by the U.S. Geological Survey, was a paleontologist and an expert on molluscs. Serving in the USGS Military Geology Unit during World War II, she helped pinpoint the Japanese military’s launch sites for balloon-borne incendiary bomb attacks against the U.S. Pacific Northwest, by analyzing seashells in the balloons’ sand ballast.

It was Gardner’s second experience of service during a world war, and her second stint with the USGS. Shortly after earning her PhD in geology from Johns Hopkins University, she began work as a USGS contractor in 1915. But when her mother died in 1917, she volunteered as an auxiliary nurse with the Red Cross in France, often working on the front lines of World War I.

In 1920 she rejoined the USGS and studied the coastal plain from Maryland to Mexico, publishing more than 40 reports. After World War II, she was assigned to the Supreme Commander, Allied Forces in Tokyo, where she worked with Japanese geologists and helped conduct geologic mapping of the western Pacific islands. She received the Interior Department’s Distinguished Service Award when she retired from the USGS in 1952. She died in 1960 at age 78.

Read about her at “Daring to Dig: Women in American Paleontology,” a project of the Paleontological Research Institution.