Zoologist and Teacher: Cornelia Maria Clapp

She was  one of the top zoologists in the United States in her lifetime.

Cornelia Clapp was born in Montague Massachusetts on March 17, 1849- December 1934. Clapp had the opportunity to attend both public and private school. She was admitted to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where her scientific interest awakened. Graduating three years later, she taught Latin in Pennsylvania for a year then returned to the Seminary and taught mathematics and gymnastics.

It was not until the summer of 1874 when Clapp began her lifelong devotion to her scientific career. It was this year she attended the Anderson School of Natural History where she learned the importance of studying nature itself and not in books. She returned to Holyoke and introduced a class of embryology, committed to acquiring laboratory science instead of book descriptions. This was only the first of many expeditions she took part in, always bringing back new knowledge and biological collections. The combination of her collections led to the expanding of the zoology department and granted her into an honors program and continued to take advanced courses. After so much work she qualified by examination for both her Ph.B. and Ph.D. then took a three-year leave to complete graduate study at the University of Chicago. Only one of her doctoral dissection of a Toadfish was published in 1889 in the Journal of Morphology because of her strong dislike in writing; resulting in little of her research being published.

Cornelia_Maria_Clapp_(1849-1934),_sitting_at_desk.jpgHer commitment and efficient method of study were admired by many other scientists. She was acknowledged among the nation’s 150 most important zoologists in the first edition of American Man of Science published in 1906. Clapp’s impact on science was vital as she brought “research to Mount Holyoke at a time research was little known or encouraged” (Reynolds 8). Not only did she research at the marine biology lab in Woods Holes MA and strongly took part in gaining opportunities for women to excel in higher education and consider science. Cornelia Clapp’s response to never getting married was “I have always had the idea if you want to do a thing there in no particular reason why you shouldn’t do it.” Clapp’s admiring character and love for science has provided an ideal amount of research findings, many which contributed to the growth of a strong science faculty for Mount Holyoke Seminary.

So much of her work earned her the respect by many, especially scientist she worked with; Clapp was so admired that alumnae and friends gifted a new “Cornelia Clapp Laboratory” and was first used 1921. She truly changed and inspired many with her devotion to science.

Marcy Corona, Women’s Museum of California Intern
Learn about more amazing Women in STEM in our latest exhibit, To Observe and Wonder running from April 7 – May 28 in the Women’s Museum of California Gallery
Reynolds, Moira Davison. American Women Scientists. 1st ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999. Print.
Siegel, Patricia Joan and K. Thomas Finley. Women in The Scientific Search. 1st ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. Print.

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