Inspirational Women Wednesday, Joan Beauchamp Procter
It is Inspirational Women Wednesday! This week we are going to be talking about the inspirational Joan Beauchamp Procter. If you missed last weeks Inspiration Women Wednesday about Jane Addams you can read it here.
Inspirational- Joan Beauchamp Procter
Joan Beauchamp Procter was born on August 5, 1897 in Kensington, London. Joan’s father, Joseph Procter, was a stockbroker and her mother, Elizabeth Procter, was an artist. Her grandfather was a wealthy businessman, and a patron of the arts named William Brockbank. Joan and her sister, Chrystabel, came from a family that had a huge love of the arts and sciences. They grew up in family homes with extravagant gardens. Thus, strengthening their love of nature and science.
Joan attended Norland Place School in London from 1904 to 1908. While there she developed a special interest in reptiles and amphibians. Furthermore, from the age of 10 on, she kept snakes and lizards as pets. In addition to learning about all the British reptiles, she also had a pet Dalmatian Lizard that went everywhere with her. Sadly, Joan wasn’t a healthy child. Joan struggled with a chronic intestinal illness throughout all of her life.
To further her education, Joan attended St. Paul’s Girls School in West London from 1908 to 1916. While there her love for reptiles continued to blossom. To illustrate her love for reptiles, at 16 she bought a young crocodile that she kept as a pet, and she even took it to school one day, causing quite a ruckus. Research states she was a “brilliant” student. However, her love for education and knowledge was often forced to take a backseat to her poor health. Joan’s health got so bad she was forced to give up her dream of attending Cambridge University.
As a result of her thirst for knowledge regarding reptiles, Joan gained the interest of George Albert Boulenger, who was the Keeper of Reptiles and Fishes at the British Museum at the time. Boulenger encouraged her to keep going with her love of reptiles. Going so far as to invite her to work under him after she left school. So in 1916, she became his assistant working at the museum as a volunteer. With Boulenger as her mentor, she was able to gain some achievement in academic zoology, even without the university experience.
The British Museum and Her Research
She presented her first paper, regarding different species of Central and South American pit vipers, to the Zoological Society of London at the age of only 19. Furthermore, in August 1917 she was elected as a Fellow of the Zoological Society. Following Boulenger’s retirement in 1920, Joan took his place at the museum.
Joan researched and wrote a series of scientific papers between 1917 and 1923. She used her time to make connections and gain status with scientists from around the world. In recognition of the high quality of her taxonomic work, she was elected as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London. In addition to her love of science, she had an artistic side as well, which she used to create models for display cases with scientific accuracy. Some of her paintings were made into postcards.
Zoological Society of London
Due to her friendship with George Albert Boulenger’s son, Edward G. Boulenger, who was the society’s Curator of Reptiles since 1911, Joan’s abilities became known to the Zoological Society. In early 1923, Edward Boulenger invited Joan to assist him in developing the new aquarium at the London Zoo. Even though she was still employed at the museum she did take a few months to help him out. Later that same year, the zoo made him Director of the Aquarium and then proceeded to name Joan as his successor as Curator of Reptiles. Correspondence has been found between Joan and a friend where she stated that “was pleased to leave the Natural History Museum because conditions there were unfavourable to women.”
Joan found great success at the London Zoo. The reptile building she helped build in 1927 is still in use today. She helped create “vita-glass,” which is glass that allowed natural ultraviolet light to reach the animals, which they need for .
Handling of Dangerous Animals
Joan became an expert
Joan Procter reached celebrity status in a short time, being that she was the first female Curator of Reptiles at the London Zoo. She kept a pet chimpanzee, called Johnnie, and several live reptiles in her home near the zoo. On March 28, 1931, because of her achievements in publications and close connections with other scientists, she became known on an international scale and was awarded an honorary doctorate, Doctor of Science by the University of Chicago.
Bad Health and Dying Young
Joan was plagued with chronic illness her entire adult life, even undergoing several surgeries, but she was in constant pain. In 1928, her health finally took its toll and prevented her from doing anymore work and she decided to resign. However, the President of the Zoological Society didn’t want to take her resignation. He even tried to pull her back in my asking for her help in planning the design of a new zoo. Her love for what most would consider dangerous reptiles remained strong. Towards the end of her life when she could only get around the zoo in an electric chair, she was still often seen with a Komodo dragon on a leash by her side.
She continued her work intermittently, until the day of her death on September 20, 1931 from cancer in her home in London. Joan was on 34 years old.
The picture above of the marble bust of Joan is still displayed with a plaque at the entrance of the Reptile House at the London Zoo. In 2014, for National Women’s Day, the Zoological Society of London celebrated her achievements, by publishing a picture of Joan with one of her tame Komodo dragons.
See you next week for another Inspirational Women Wednesday!
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31