Ruth Patrick
Patrick in 1975
Born(1907-11-26)November 26, 1907
DiedSeptember 23, 2013(2013-09-23) (aged 105)
Alma materUniversity of Virginia
AwardsNational Medal of Science
Lewis L. Dollinger Pure Environment Award (1970)
Scientific career
FieldsBotanist and Limnologist
InstitutionsAcademy of Natural Sciences
Author abbrev. (botany)R.M.Patrick

Ruth Myrtle Patrick (November 26, 1907 – September 23, 2013) was an American botanist and limnologist specializing in diatoms and freshwater ecology. She authored more than 200 scientific papers,[1] developed ways to measure the health of freshwater ecosystems and established numerous 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."[2] 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.[3]


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

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.[5] 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. In 1967, she founded Stroud Water Research Center in collaboration with W.B. Dixon Stroud and his wife Joan Milliken Stroud; this facility was located on the Stroud's property adjoining White Clay Creek in Avondale, Pennsylvania[6]

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. Patrick was an advocate for clean water, including helping develop the guidelines for the US Congress Clean Water Act.[7] President Lyndon B. Johnson sought her expertise on water pollution, and President Ronald Reagan asked for her input on acid rain.[2]

Awards and honours

Her work has been widely published and she has received numerous awards for her scientific achievements. A complete list is available on her institutional page.[8] Highlights include:

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."[18] This botanist is denoted by the author abbreviation R.M.Patrick when citing a botanical name.[19]

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.[20]

Dr Patrick received more than 25 honorary degrees.[8] In 2009, Patrick was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[21]

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.[22] With Charles Hodge IV she had one son. Charles was an entomologist and a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin.

Patrick died at a retirement home in 2013. She was 105.[23] As a tribute to her father and her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, Dr. Patrick left most of her library to the Linda Hall Library at her death. These books focus on microscopy and microscopical observations.[24]


  1. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Ruth Patrick (1907-2013)". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  2. ^ a b Rachel, Swaby (2015). Headstrong : 52 women who changed science-- and the world (First ed.). New York. ISBN 9780553446791. OCLC 886483944.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Dicke, William (September 23, 2013), "Ruth Patrick, 105, a Pioneer in Science And Pollution Control Efforts, Is Dead", The New York Times
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ Wasserman, Elga R. (2000). The door in the dream : conversations with eminent women in science. Joseph Henry Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-309-06568-9.
  6. ^ Bott, Thomas; Sweeney, Bernard (2014). Biographical Memoirs: Ruth Patrick (PDF). National Academy of Sciences. p. 6.
  7. ^ "In Memoriam: Ruth Patrick (1907-2013)". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  8. ^ a b c "Honors & Awards | Ruth Patrick | People". Drexel University -. Retrieved 2019-03-04.
  9. ^ "Ruth Patrick". Retrieved 2022-08-04.
  10. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2022-08-04.
  11. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  12. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "Awards". Retrieved 2019-03-03.
  14. ^ "Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences Recipients". American Philosophical Society. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  15. ^ A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award Archived 2009-08-28 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Past Mendel Medal Recipients | Villanova University". Retrieved 2019-03-04.
  17. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Ruth Patrick".
  18. ^ Ruth Patrick Award Archived 2007-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Brummitt, R. K.; C. E. Powell (1992). Authors of Plant Names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. ISBN 978-1-84246-085-6.
  20. ^ "Academy Throws Glittering Gala for Scientist Dr. Ruth Patrick's 100th Birthday".
  21. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Ruth Patrick
  23. ^ Zauzmer, Julie (23 September 2013). "Ruth Patrick, ecology pioneer, dies at 105" – via
  24. ^ "Linda Hall Library Hedgehog, no. 55, Fall, 2014" (PDF).