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Read Adm. Welch and six women arrive at South Pole
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy
Rear Adm. David F. "Kelly" Welch (third from left) accompanies Terry Lee Tickhill, Lois Jones, Pam Young, Eileen McSaveney, Kay Lindsay and Jean Pearson, left to right, on their first steps at the South Pole. The six women became the first females to visit 90 degrees south, breaking the gender barrier that had existed for more than 10 years. At right is then Lt. Jon Clarke, aide to the admiral.

Stepping into history

Women mark 40 years of working in the U.S. Antarctic Program

The year 1969 was one of those watershed periods in American history. The counterculture was in full bloom with flower power and rock & roll. Neil Armstrong fulfilled Pres. John F. Kennedy's promise to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade when Apollo 11 landed on its cratered surface. Women were agitating for and winning equal treatment at home, in the workplace and in the halls of government.

Elena Marty and other civilian contractors.
Photo Courtesy: Jerry and Elena Marty
Elena Marty, center, was one of the few women who worked in Antarctic in 1974-75.

But in the first half of1969, U.S. women were still effectively barred from living and working in Antarctica. That was about to change when a handful of women arrived on the continent for the 1969-70 field season. Six of the seven would further make history when they became the first women to step foot at the geographic South Pole on Nov. 12, 1969. Today, more than 50 women work at the South Pole for the 2009-10 summer season. Link to Image File

The last bastion of male supremacy, as some had called Antarctica, was finally breached. In succeeding years, women slowly trickled in to the U.S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site, working first as scientists, and later filling minor support roles. Eventually, hundreds of women flooded the program, working their way into positions of authority, from running research stations to leading major science expeditions.

Features in this series include:

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs