Grace Hall Griswold, An Early Woman of Science

Photo of Grace Hall Griswold in 1922 working in a laboratory at Cornell University.  She is looking through a microscope at a lab counter with an assortment of glassware, chemicals, and other scientific equipment around her.
Grace Hall Griswold in 1922 in a laboratory at Cornell University from their Rare Book and Manuscript Collections:

At right is a photograph of Grace Hall Griswold, Ph.D. working in a laboratory in 1922 discovered in the Cornell University Digital Collection (Rare Book and Manuscript Collections).  Grace Hall Griswold was born in 1872 in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, to Dr. Joseph Bascom Griswold, M.D. (1842-1915) and Mary Barnet Wisner (1843-1908).  Her father served in Company S, 4th Infantry Regiment Michigan during the Civil War where he began as an assistant surgeon in 1864 and was promoted to surgeon in January 1866.  He mustered out of the Army in May 1866.  In addition to Grace, Joseph and Mary Griswold had two sons:  Roger Wisner Griswold (1869-1928) and Joseph H. Griswold (1881-1904).

Grace’s early education began in Grand Rapids, Michigan and continued at the Upham School for Girls in Canandaigua, New York.  She started at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York as a special student in landscape art and floriculture in 1915.  She eventually earned both her Bachelor of Science (1918) and Ph.D. (1925) degrees from Cornell, where she studied insects.  She joined Cornell’s Entomology Department in the College of Agriculture in 1925 and retired in 1943.  Cornell was one of the earliest U.S. universities to offer coeducation.  Women were first admitted in 1870, only two years after Cornell opened its doors.  Coeducation did not catch on at other elite northeastern universities until the 1960’s.  Cornell’s progressive policies towards education for everyone likely contributed to Griswold’s success as a scientist at a time where women were not typically welcomed into these professional fields.

Grace Hall Griswold’s death notice in The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY) on January 24, 1946.
Grace Hall Griswold’s death notice in The Ithaca Journal (Ithaca, NY) on January 24, 1946.

Griswold authored a significant number of scientific research papers and books and neither of her parents survived to witness these accomplishments.  Some of her research areas included the study of the effects of a chemical called dichlorobenzene on clothes moth egg and larvae survival and the control of aphids and other houseplant pests. A volume of the collected papers of Grace Hall Griswold was published through Cornell University in 1959.

Reflecting on Griswold’s scientific research, much of her work was related to the study of insects that affect life in households, like houseplant pests or moths and carpet beetles, which could cause major damage to and even destroy apparel.  In addition to making presentations at scientific conferences, she also delivered lectures and provided advice to women’s groups.  It makes one wonder whether she chose these areas of study because they were truly of interest to her or whether these subjects essentially chose her because women in science were automatically steered toward areas of study that might fall more under the household umbrella.

According to the death notice from The Ithaca Journal on January 24, 1946 (clipping shown at left), Griswold sadly committed suicide.  A later article from the same newspaper (February 8, 1946), detailed the disbursement of Griswold’s estate. She bequeathed her brain to Cornell University and her entomology library to Cornell’s Department of Entomology.  Following personal gifts to friends and family members,  including a nephew in Baltimore, Maryland, the residue of her estate was donated to Cornell University for the purpose of establishing the Grace H. Griswold Fund.  The income from the fund was to be used by the Entomology Department to support visiting lecturers, make equipment purchases, and for other purposes.  The fund is still active today.  A scientific research paper published in 2022 about pest control and pollinator protection in the journal PLOSOne acknowledged the Grace H. Griswold fund for providing the funds to cover the publication fees to the journal for the article.