Ballona Institute Publication

Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, Forgotten Marine Biologist, Ascidiologist, Educator:
Notes Toward a Biography of a California Woman Scientist and Teacher

California State Bear Flag

Compiled and Written
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ecologist, Conservation Biologist, Marine Biologist, Environmental Biologist, Wetland Scientist, Environmental Historian, Biographer, Geographer
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90293

October 10, 2008

"... History is Biography ..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
19th Century

"Miss Myrtle Johnson, one of my students, but for whose dissections and sketches, no such extensive examination ... of the species would have been practicable."

William Emerson Ritter
University of California
Contributions From The Laboratory
of the
Marine Biological Association of San Diego
November 15,1909

"I am glad to acknowledge the helpfulness ... for the efficiency and patience of Doctor Myrtle E. Johnson in making dissections, rough sketches, and finished illustrations."

William Emerson Ritter
University of California
Of The Scripps Institution for Biological Research, La Jolla, California
Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum

Naturalist, Teacher, and Friend

Inscription Page From
Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast
Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson
San Diego State University

Here we are in 2008, now already 8 years into the new Milllenium of the 21st Century, and still no woman has become president of the United States There was a long struggle for women to get the right to vote followed by a struggle for women to become professors and scientists in universities. One such woman to break these early barriers to professorship in a univeristy with a PhD was Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson. Her book on the marine life of the seashores of the Pacific Coast is also a monumental breakthrough in equality for women considering that it was written 81 years ago in 1927, fully 12 years before Ed Ricketts' book, Between Pacific Tides, in 1939. The discussion about Myrtle's book by Joel Hedgpeth, the distinguished historian of marine biology, as well as marine biologist, is quite telling and very worthy of quotation. The quoted passage comes from the annotated bibliography in the fourth edition of Between Pacific Tides by Ed Ricketts as follows:

"The book is a remarkable achievement for its time, and although much of the nomenclature has fallen into obsolescence, the book is still useful and sought after. Indeed, a paperback reprint, without change, has been published by Dover. It is certain that copies of the original edition, wil continue to be in demand; many of them are annotated (who, we wonder, now has Wesley Coe's well-annotated copy that was "borrowed" from his office at Scripps many years ago?). The original publication was made possible by the generosity of Ellen Browning Scripps; yet within a few years after publication (around 1932-33), the publishers had remaindered the stock, and the book went out of print."

This long quote by Joel Hedgpeth in Ricketts' fourth edition creates the curiosity of what Ed Ricketts wrote about Myrtle in the first edition (1939 and second edition (1948). A careful perusal of those two books resulted in discovering Ed Ricketts' compliment and acknowledgement of Myrtle, not unlike Hedpeth as follows:

"The vade mecum of marine biologists of the Pacific. Indispensible." And so this leaves us with wondering if Hedgpeth added or subtracted to Ricketts' quotation in the third edition (1952) which reads as follows:

"An essential reference, now somewhat out of date and virtually unobtainble except at collectors' prices. Dr. Johnson is working on a new edition."

Note that the "new edition" that was suggested by Hedgpeth as being worked on by Dr. Johnson, was never completed by Myrtle, but interestingly, there was a second printing in 1935, followed by a third printing in 1954, and the Dover reprint in 1967, which Joel Hedgpeth mentioned in his 1968 quotation and that Richard Allen mentioned in 1967 and again in 1979. In fact, the quotation by Richard Allen is also worthy of quotation for understanding the importance of Myrtle's book to marine biologists:

"Seashore Animals of the Pacific Coast by M. E. Johnson ..., published in 1927, was considered the bible of the seashore by naturalists and teachers for many years. Dover publication republished an unabridged and unaltered edition in 1967, but this classic work is of limited value because of the numerous name changes of common species and the many changes in our system of classification during the last forty-five years [1927-1972]."

My assessment of the quotes by Joel Hedgpeth and Richard Allen indicate to this 21st Century student of marine biology that It is necessary for a new edition of Myrtle's book to be compiled with the changes recommended by Richard Allen regarding "the numerous name changes of common names and the many changes in our system of classification during the last forty-five years [1927-1972]. Of course, its now 2008, so actually eighty-one years have now passed [1927-2008].

Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson studied marine biology, ascidians, salps, ecology, and science during the early part of the 20th Century from 1899 to 1909. She completed a Masters Degree and a PhD at the University of California at Berkeley.

Within a decade of completion of her PhD, Myrtle became a professor at San Diego State Teachers College, which later became San Diego State University. As the first and only woman scientist for several decades at this univeristy, she created the pathway for future women scientists including Joy Zedler.

While at San Diego as a new professor, she began work on a book about the marine biology of seashore animals of the California coast. The book has become a classic and predates Edward Ricketts and his book, Between Pacific Tides by 12 years.

She was honored with many awards for teaching during her career. She also wrote two books on seashells of California that were designed to reach out to the public, both adults and children, about the wonderful life at the seashore.

Myrtle wasn't the first woman, or the first person, to write a book about the California seashore. That distinction falls to Augusta Foote Arnold, who, in 1901, wrote another marine biology classic entitled: "The Sea Beach at Ebb Tide." It was written 25 years earlier than Myrtle's book. I noticed that Myrtle acknowledged Augusta quite nicely, albeit succinctly her book. Interestingly, Edward Ricketts and later Joel Hedgpeth also acknowledge both Myrtle and Augusta for their fine books on marine ecology and natural history of the pacific coast of California. Isn't it interesting that these two women have been virtually forgotten, whereas the men that write about the seashore are remembered and made famous, i.e. Edward Ricketts and John Steinbeck.

Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, as well as Augusta Foote Arnold, and another woman marine biologist of California, Ruth Agnes Forsyth, also from this same time period of the early 20th Century, have been ignored and almost erased from our history, except that the Ballona Institute, with its focus of attention on women scientists, ecoliteracy, ecofeminism, continues to bring attention to this important issue. These three women scientists who studied marine biology and natural history of the California littoral region, were not allowed to vote as women during the early part of their education and career at the University of California, and they did not obtain the right to vote until later in the 20th Century, after they became teachers. And in the case of Augusta Foote Arnold, she died before getting the right to vote in elections..

Myrtle's graduate advisor at the University of California was William Emerson Ritter. He supported and endorsed women in undergraduate and graduate education. William Emerson Ritter was a distinguished marine scientist and director of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in its early years. He was also a world expert on ascidians who published many studies on ascidians of the Pacific Coast.

Finally, a cursory search through her papers and archives, curated at the university, I discovered that she was a member of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. She traveled throughout the west, including such places as Yosemite National Park.

Excerpts from Ruth Agnes Forsyth
1917. The Littoral Ascidians of Southern California.University of California Publications in Zoology

Note: The Ballona Institute has original copies of the publications by Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, as well as items written by Augusta Foote Arnold, Ruth Agnes Forsyth, and WIliam Emerson Riter on marine biology of the California coast, seashore, wetlands, and ocean.

The mission and goal of the Ballona Institute is to work toward an honest, truthful, and genuine ecological restoration and education of the public as to genuine restoration, such as establishment of an ascidian marine fauna in the greater Ballona Wetlandn Ecosystem.

The first step is biography of earlier marine biologists which is history. And to see what the ascidian fauna was and would have been here at the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem. It is needed to identify and characterize the ascidian fauna of Ballona Lagoon, Ballona Harbor, Ballona Seashore, and Ballona Jetties, in order to do genuine restoration via recovery of these littoral ascidians of shallow water. Ascidians are sensitive to pollution that occurred at Ballona from the 1920s through the 1970s. Fortunately, there is no longer any water pollution to the marine environment and marine wildlife such as the delicate ascidians. Ballona Creek has been cleaned up adequately for wildlife to recover. It may not be clean enough for human standards that are overly rigorous but for wildlife, the Ballona Wetlands are very healthy now. Recovery of locally extinct species is the genuine goal of restoration for the Ballona Wetlands, through acquisition of additional land in the Ballona Ecosystem rather than excavating and removing soil that has been disigenuinely been being called "fill dirt" recently. There will be massive pollution of silt and clay particles to the Ballona River Estuary if dredging occurs which will destroy the healthy marine fauna and prevent the recovery of littoral ascidans for another century when it is time now to bring back the littoral ascidians.

Now that the Ballona Estuary is no longer polluted from a wildlife perspective and marine biology perspective, it is time to bring back marine life and terrestrial life that was eliminated between the 1890s and 1980s. Due to the fact that Doctor Rimmon Carlton Fay, who studied the ascidians of southern California intensively in the 1960s and 1970s, and since the Ballona Institute has obtained both of Dr. Fay's published scientific articles on ascidians, as well as his thorough monographic report on the pollution of the Southern California coast from 1974, we can begin to determine the littoral ascidians to restore and recover for the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem.

The research of the Ballona Institute in bringing the previous research and biographies together on ascidians from Rimmon Carlton Fay, Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson, and Ruth Agnes Forsyth, together with that of William Emerson Ritter and Donald Abbott of Stanford University at Hopkins Marine Station, who recently passed away, as did Rimmon Carlton Fay, we are now in a unique position to bring many insights to understanding the Ballona River Estuary and its regional context to Santa Monica Bay and the Southern California Bight for littoral asicidans and selected subtidal ascidans as well.

Lastly, the current research and published studies by the husband and wife team of Doctor Charles Lambert and Doctor Gretchen Lambert of Friday Harbor Marine Lab at the University of Washington in the modern era of our 21st Century regarding ecology of ascidians including invasive ascidians of southern California and the Ballona Harbor in Marina del Rey has also assisted the Ballona Institute toward accomplishing a modern synthesis and base-line study of the marine biology. This investigation of marine biology is underway as a research project by the Ballona Institute for the benefit of the public that wishes to question authority of our corrupt government organizations and corrupt government quasi-scientists including certain selected university scientists that pretend to be conservation oriented with an interest in nature and wildlife but actually covertly masquerade with private developers and real estate speculators that are still hard at work to destroy nature and wildlife in the Ballona Wetlands in the great state of California with a natural heritage that needs to be protected, preserved, restored, and recovered through organizations like the Ballona Institute which questions authority, by doing biography and history for genuine authority and knowledge for genuine restoration and recovery of our genuine flora and fauna of both the marine environment and terrestial environment. The Ballona Institue thought that the establishment of a Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve that is managed by the state of California would now be preserved and protected but we are all finding out otherwise now as the evil developers and real-estate speculators are corrupting the state of California government agencies with politics but the Ballona Institute is also involved in exposing this government corruption in all its perverse and insidious politics ongoing at the Greater Ballona Wetlands Ecosystem.