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Spotlight on Jessie G. Beach, Smithsonian Department of Paleobiology Staff Member

This post was written by Lezlie Hernandez, a Summer 2021 intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, sponsored by the American Women’s History Initiative. Her project focused on researching the history of Smithsonian women in science. 

Jessie G. Beach (1887-1954) worked as a museum aid for the Smithsonian’s Department of Paleobiology at the United States National Museum (now called the National Museum of Natural History) for over 30 years. Beach attended Baylor University but earned both her BS and MA from George Washington University.  After graduating, Beach began working at the Smithsonian as a typist in 1918, and on October 16, 1920, she was promoted to a museum aid and stayed in that position until her death in 1954. In her work, she completed a wide range of tasks that included labeling specimens, caring for exhibits, and assisting researchers with their manuscripts.

Jessie G. Beach worked with hydrozoan and specimens in the Department of Paleobiology. Fossilized Cnidaria Hydrozoa, S. Jones, 1942, Department of Botany Collections, Catalog # USNM PAL 498530.

Much of Beach’s involvement with the Smithsonian can be traced through the Annual reports of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution and the Report on the Progress and Condition of the U.S. National Museum. As Beach gained more experience, she took on more challenging duties.

Excerpt from Report on the progress and condition of the U.S. National Museum for the year ending June 30,1923, page 88, describing a trip by Jessie G. Beach. Biodiversity Heritage Library, Contributed by New York Botanical Garden, LuEsther T. Mertz Library.
  • In 1922, she traveled abroad to consult museum workers on best cataloguing practices. On this trip, she visited France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, and Scotland.
  • In 1940, she typed labels and numbered specimens from the biologic series of Paleozoic invertebrates, including the gastropod, sponge, and hydrozoan specimens.
  • In 1945, she aided the head curator with updating many museum exhibitions. She cleaned and rearranged the exhibits. She also replaced and added labels of explanation to items.
  • In 1950, she worked with the bryozoan specimens.

Beach was well known across the Department of Paleobiology. She was an aid for various department heads, including Charles E. Reeser, Ray Smith Bassler, and William F. Foshag. Beach assisted many researchers with their personal manuscripts. This was the case with Ferdinand Canu and Ray Smith Bassler with their work, Bryozoa of the Philippine Region published in 1929. In the introduction, they wrote, “The authors are greatly indebted to Miss Jessie G. Beach of the division of paleontology…” With her 36 years of experience, I would agree with the authors.  We are greatly indebted to Jessie G. Beach for all her wonderful contributions to paleontology and the Smithsonian.

Excerpt from “Bryozoa of the Philippine Region”, Bulletin – United States National Museum no. 100 v. 9 (1929), page 2, thanking Jessie G. Beach.


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