Ballona Institute Publication

Ruth Agnes Forsyth, Forgotten Marine Biologist:
Notes Toward a Biography of a Woman Scientist, A Century Ago

California State Bear Flag

Compiled and Edited
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


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

Ruth Agnes Forsyth was born in 1887. In 1905, at the age of 18 years old, she sought a university education. In 1909, she completed all the coursework for a university degree from the University of California at Berkeley. The Golden Year Book of the University for 1909 also indicates that she was a resident in Gilroy, just south a number of miles below San Jose at the south end of San Francisco Bay, California. It seems possible that she became a teacher for a short time with the university degree assisting her at obtaining a position at a local school? At this time it is not absolutely certain what her focus and major field of study was as an undergraduate at the University of California. However, it is believed that she obtained training in both zoology and botany, and Bachelor degree is listed as a Bachelor of Science.

In any regard, she enrolled in the graduate program in zoology at Berkeley not too long after finishing her undegraduate degree, approximatley in 1914, is a current estimate of the year, which may need refinement after further research. The library of the Univeristy of California shows that she completed a Masters thesis in 1916. The research thesis involved an investigtation of a group of marine animals found along the seashore in the littoral region and also in harbors of southern California that are known as ascidians. Naturalists and the public know them as tunicates and sea squirts. Her advisor was Doctor William Emerson Ritter, a world expert on ascidians who published many studies on ascidians of the Pacific Coast.

A year after completion of the masater thesis, she and Doctor Ritter co-authored a peer-reviewed scientific report on the littoral ascidians of southern California that appeared in the University of California Publications in Zoology in 1917. The article is obviously noteworthy for its science in specialized field of marine biology and invertebrate zoology, but it is also noteworthy as a major investigation for a geographic region of our state that was much ignored, namely the coast of southern California. However, the young marine field station known as Scripps Institute of Oceanography was in existence and their report is a contribution from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography as well as from the University of California at Berkeley.

However, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the research of Ruth Agnes Forsyth is that it is a study by a woman in the early 20th Century in the field of biology and zoology and marine biology. And also that a professor had the courage and humanitarian awareness to advise her as a graduate student and even that he was willing to have his name associated with a student that was a woman.

It is interesting to point out that Doctor William Emerson Ritter assisted another woman student just a few years earlier in 1909. Her name was Myrtle Elizabeth Johnson and her graduate research was also completed at the University of California at Berkeley. Her study was also on a marine biology subject of the same related group of organisms related closely to the ascidians (tunicates - sea squirts) namely the "salps" that are pelagic, i.e. they live in the open ocean rather than along the seashore in the littoral region. Myrtle Johhnso went on to complete a PhD at Berkeley and then to become a distinguished professor at San Diego State College. She wrote the first dedicated guide to seashore life of the Pacific Coast in the 1920s, within a decade of completing her PhD. Dr. Ritter named an asicidan in her honor in 1909 for her excellent detailed scientific illustration of a particularl ascidian that he was studying, simultaneously as he was mentoring her as an advisor and soon afterward, also mentoring Ruth Agnes Forsyth.

The two reports by Ruth Agnes Forsyth, both her masters thesis and the published report co-authored with Doctor William Emerson Ritter are a testimony to one of the earliest woman marine biologists of the 20th Century and is noteworthy for this reason alone. Their published report is considered a classic marine biology publication, even today, and is so thorough and important that it is quoted by modern marine researchers including Doctor Rimmon Carlton Fay, Doctor Donald Abbott, Doctor A. Todd Newbury, Doctor Gretchen Lambert, and Doctor Charles Lambert in 2008 in the completely revised fourth edition of the "Light and Smith Manual" of the Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon, edited by Doctor James Carlton.

Article by Ruth Agnes Forsyth and William Emerson Ritter from August 17, 1917
Ascidians of the Littoral Zone of Southern California.Contribution from the Scripps Institution for Biological Research

Note: The Ballona Institute has two original copies of the publication by Ruth Agnes Forsyth and William Emerson Ritter. Both copies were obtained from European institutes. One copy is from a historic science institute at Berlin, Germany. The second copy is from a historic science institute at Paris, France. Both copies are in a delicate condition because they are 91 years old in 2008. Both of these copies were originally printed at the University of California at Berkeley, but found their way across the Atlantic Ocean by mail on ships to researchers and their institues in Europe, Germany and France respectively.

In addition, a photocopy of the master thesis is in the process of procurement from the library of the University of California at Berkeley. The Ballona Institute is in the process of taking excerpts from her thesis and published report regarding several species of ascidians (tunicates and sea squirts) because these marine animals are found in the Ballona ecosystem. 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 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 resarch 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.