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AWSS History

By Barb Leuelling, AWSS Founder
AWSS Newsletter, December 1991

[Note: This was a talk by Barb Leuelling at the first meeting of the Association of Women Soil Scientists on October 29, 1991.]

Meeting here in Denver is especially exciting--to actually meet as a group after so many years of news exchange through the newsletter. Much of the energy to meet came about by the insight and perseverance of Carol Wettstein. She urged us to meet at a national event several years ago. Carol really deserves a lot of credit for her commitment.

How did the organization initiate? It came about by reverie and isolation in "those" days and as a response to my job in a very remote location on the Superior National Forest. I was the first "professional" woman on the Isabella Ranger District. I knew I could continue being isolated, I could give up in frustration, or I could take matters into my own hands and do something. I had had some experience in other organizations to know that sometimes the difference in getting things done or not getting things done was just to do it. My need for networking couldn't lie idle then and it became a high priority not only as a soil scientist but within the Forest Service in general. As women soil scientists' names came across my desk, I kept a list of the names and addresses, intending to write them. When Linda Donoghue's very early issues (a collection of letters stapled together) of what is now known as Women in Natural Resources (published out of the University of Idaho) appeared in my office, I knew what my letter to those eleven or so women would be like: it included the four basic goals of the AWSS and a brief note so they wouldn't think I was from another galaxy, at least, "not right off the bat." This went out in April. 1981. I was surprised by the overwhelming support and enthusiasm in their early and quick replies.

Today we sit here in this room and the delight of it is that we are not all technicians but folks that have a developed history and some levels of responsibility. Some are embarking on their careers, but we are not dominantly in entry level positions as many of us were in 1981.·This is very satisfying to me. We are a group of women who are not the same; we cannot speak in a singular voice because we are different and have our own uniqueness, but we share some similarities. It is the uniqueness and similarities that I hope can continue friendships and careers so that our paths may cross many times in our careers of stewardship. I believe AWSS, can help to share friendships that will last a lifetime, and it can be rewarding in many ways. Thank you for your energy and letting me get to know you so that we can know each other. I urge you to network and correspond to each other--that support will carry us a long way!


AWSS Genesis

By Barb Leuelling, AWSS Founder
AWSS Newsletter, June 1993

[Note: This was a talk by Barb Leuelling at the second meeting of the Association of Women Soil Scientists on November 3, 1992, Minneapolis, MN]

There I was at a remote Ranger Station working with the US Forest Service in Isabella, Minnesota, embarking on my career with the Forest Service. I was the first "professional" woman on the District. And in soil science. No one knew what to do with me.

No longer having my family as a support network, no college peers nearby, it was an especially isolated professional circumstance.

Fortunately, and quite by accident, I started to meet a few women in other professional positions. In fact, that is how I first met Carol Wettstein; we crossed paths on a fire fighting situation.

In 1980, Linda Donahue had started routing around a few handwritten letters stapled together--the beginnings of a magazine! You all know this magazine today as Women in Natural Resources, being published out of the University of Idaho, Moscow. It started out as a pile of letters stapled together, then a Xeroxed booklet called Women in Forestry. I figured that if she could do it, so could I.

That's how this organization started in early 1982. I wrote to ten people I didn't know but who had the fortune of being female soil scientists. I got a call from Donna Duffy who was working with the Forest Service at the time who said she was going to an Ecological Land Classification conference in upper Ontario and would I see her there? Was I going? Up till that moment, I hadn't planned on going! So I said, well, I'll send in my registration today! This was my first meeting with another female soil scientist. It was heaven. Double heaven: her husband, like mine, was a land surveyor. They got bored looking at soil pits and spent the next couple days chasing after land monuments while we peered into pit after pit. And developed AWSS, and one of those lifelong friendships.


There is still "distance" today--because many of us work alone in the woods, in urban field mapping situations, or pretty much "alone" because there are simply very few of us in the workforce.

It has been enjoyable to see through the newsletter the professional and personal growth of each of us, and my hope is that we continue to foster this growth through support of one another. My hope is that we expand our networking situations to encourage others and ourselves to meet our needs as soil scientists, as parents, pet-owners, gardeners, attorneys, bikers, rollerbladers or however else we define ourselves--and to do this in an increasingly complex work force.

I think we can best do this by participating in as many facets of our work environment as we can, to foster partnerships with our coworkers and partnerships with other agencies and private businesses.

In fact, AWSS is doing its partwe are helping ourselves to position ourselves for the future by developing those professional relationships that will last a lifetime.

That's why we must have this luxury to make frequent encounters among us and among other professional societies a common occurrence. We can share, respect, and support one another. The luxury of networking: it's one of the most effective tools to help others be effective and help ourselves be effective. That is one reason we gathered, annually, at the last two national ASA meetings.

Carol Wettstein had the insight to keep offering to set up a meeting--this was in the mid-80's! But, it took a few of us others to get to point in our careers so that we could attend national meetings so we could arrange such an AWSS meeting!

I encourage this networking to expand. I encourage each member to make a commitment to pick up your latest directory and just contact someone else--maybe a new friendship, a new business contact, a new piece of information will emerge--no question about it! Meet at other regional meetings, develop more local AWSS meetings, and use the newsletter to let us hear more about you and your activities--it can only help us develop our own professional effectiveness and be more human at the same time.

LATER (March 1993)

One thing that stands out in my mind is thinking about women soil scientists in upper responsibility levels, who have gone on to tackle positions in Washington, DC or elsewhere. I have heard this from similar women, though not all soil scientists, that say, "Believe me, it's lonely out there." That phrase says it all. From entry level positions to higher leadership positions, it's still pretty darn lonely. Younger entry level women see some of the older and more experienced women in the work force and just can't believe the workforce is as unyielding as it is. To those experienced folks who are charting the paths for others to follow, thank you very much for taking those first steps AND to those younger folks, thank you very much for following in others footsteps, validating the pioneers' efforts. I recommend EACH of us write or call someone more experienced, and someone less experienced to keep up the "community of us." I think somewhere along the way in our careers we sometimes forget about other segments of the workforce and get stuck seeing only that around us.

We need to support others, not just those growing new into their careers, but those who are growing longer, shall I say, in their careers.


More AWSS History

AWSS History Timeline
Margie Faber, AWSS Historian, gives a concise chronology of AWSS from 1981-2000.

Women in Soil Science
Maxine J. Levin chronicles the history of women in the soil sciences 1895- present