NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying

Above: An all-woman survey crew on the Minidoka Project in Idaho, 1918. The project was part of a large-scale irrigation system that controlled the flow of the Snake River with a series of dams and canals.

While the recent Women Surveyor’s Summit is the first of what is hoped to be an ongoing new series of meetings, it was not the first of such events historically or globally—there is a long and distinguished history of women’s surveying groups and gatherings, and the recent summit has sparked renewed interest in the history and accomplishments of past initiatives. Chiefly, with regards to surveying in North America, is the NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying, which began in 1983.

The impactful work of these earlier groups can help inform, guide, and inspire new initiatives like the Women Surveyor’s Summit. Other notable initiatives and groups include FIG task forces on gender and under-represented groups and an ongoing Women in Surveying group of the DVW (Germany), online forum groups, Women in Surveying (UK), Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and much more.

The Women Surveyor Summit, Austin, Texas, 2019, was a great success. 65 attendees traveled from across the nation. The next four years of summits are already being planned.

Some signs of progress: There are currently seven women presidents (and two VPs) of state associations/societies. The leadership (and founding) of the FIG Young Surveys is women; Australia has its first surveyor generals of two of its seven states. And, earlier this year, Dominica Van Koten was selected as the new Washington, DC Chief Cadastral Surveyor. There have been women surveyor gatherings at various conferences in Europe, Asia, South America, and most recently in Africa. Indeed, about two-thirds of the nominations xyHt receives each year for the 40 Outstanding Geospatial Professionals under 40 are women. 

An example of the success of the work of the NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying was influencing advertisers in and publishers of surveying publications, brochures, exhibits, and various copy to remove sexist images and text (read more in the draft history below).

In many ways, so much progress has been made through the efforts of theses earlier groups and many since who have kept up the continuum—but there is still a long way to go.

The following is a draft chapter from a history of the National Society of Professional Surveyors, prepared by Harold Charlier and edited by Wendy Lathrop. This draft chapter outlines the history of the Forum for Women in Surveying by citing minutes, society proceedings, and related publications.


Draft chapter from a history of the NSPS (H. Charlier); as written:

NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying

In order to track the history of the NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying, we went back to the earliest minutes of the NSPS board of directors in which the idea was mentioned. There on page 6 of the executive committee’s meeting of January 14-15, 1983 was this rather uninspiring report:

            9-G.     Women’s Forum

At the request of women surveyors D. Bender has supported a Women’s Forum at the March meeting in Washington, DC. That was it—no further discussion—end of report.

However, the February, 1983 issue of NSPS News (an insert in the ACSM Bulletin) contained a short promotion of the planned meeting:

“The first meeting of the NSPS Women’s Forum will be held at the Annual Convention on Tuesday, March 15, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Mary Feindt of Charlevoix, Mich., will be moderating this meeting. Women land surveyors are invited to contact the NSPS Administrative Office at the ACSM National Office regarding concerns which they would like to have addressed. Details: Anne Glasgow, NSPS Administrative Assistant, (703) 241-2446.”

There evidently was further communications between the women and the NSPS board, for at its meeting on June 17-18, 1983, the NSPS executive committee took the following action:

“MOTION by R. Woodfill that the Women’s Forum be allowed participating non-voting membership for one year before requiring ACSM dues paying membership. Second by John Thalacker. Carried.” 

A report in the February 1984 issue of the ACSM Bulletin served as an excellent summary of the Forum’s goals and purposes: 

“With Mary Feindt presiding, the Forum for Women in Surveying was convened on Tuesday morning, the 20th, at 10:00 a.m. Highlights of the meeting included: 

“Secretary Wendy Straight reported that there were 66 active members in the Forum, representing 26 states, of whom 23 are registered land surveyors, 11 are land surveyors-in-training (LSIT), 2 are corporate representatives, 1 is a university faculty member, and 1 is a building contractor.  Straight reported that 36 are currently members of ACSM and 33 are members of their state societies. A commendable and courageous action of the Forum has been to request those members of the Forum not belonging to ACSM to join, allowing a 1-year grace period to do so. 

“A report of Kelly Olin, read by President Feindt, outlined a presentation targeted toward high school young women to interest them in surveying careers and to encourage them to choose the proper courses and inform them of the opportunities, availabilities, and requirements.

“A format for newsletter to be used for a winter edition was approved.

 “Maggie O’Donnell, subcommittee chair, reported on the status of draft resolution asking that NSPS form a special committee to adopt advertising guidelines for publications and exhibits. Wendy Straight was appointed to assist in the presentation of the resolution to the NSPS Board of Directors.

 “Among the resolutions made was a request that the NSPS board form a committee to formulate standards and guidelines for advertisers in how they depict women in surveying magazine ads and in exhibits at conventions.

 “This spirited group of young women is highly motivated in their combined zeal to promote the professional image of women in surveying.”

 In case there was any question as to how well the Forum did in its formative years, all one needed to do was review the minutes of its March 13, 1985 meeting at the Washington Hilton. They were on a roll. The meeting room was packed, and included many visitors/observers/supporters (that is, guys).  At the time Mary Feindt was concluding the final year of a two-year term as Forum Chair. Loyce Smith (Idaho) was about to take over as Chair for 1985, and by unanimous vote at this meeting Jocelyn Martin was selected as Chair for 1986, while Wendy Lathrop (New Jersey) agreed to serve as newsletter editor for the year. Wendy Woodbury Straight  (New York) volunteered to assist by reading all affiliate newsletters for appropriate Forum newsletter extractions. 

One of the Forum’s basic reasons for organizing was already showing results.  The Advertising Standards subcommittee, under Maggie O’Donnell (Florida), reported as follows:           

“A letter was sent from ACSM Publications Committee to editors and publishers of surveying and mapping publications requesting “highest possible standards” for professional advertising. The letter, mailed February 5, 1985, represented the culmination of proceedings initiated by the Forum’s resolution on Advertising Standards of September 20, 1983.”

 (See a copy below of the 1989 version of ACSM’s Anti-Discrimination Policy.)

Film chairman Robert Todd reported on the progress on the production of the surveying film (A Matter of Degrees). The voice of the Forum was just in time, as it became necessary to do some backtracking on the film script to include women in surveying.

Evidently there was a bit of a controversy between the Forum committee and ACSM regarding the contents of a proposed brochure on careers in surveying—enough of a conflict to precipitate a resolution confirming the Forum’s position on the matter.

The meeting did not end until several notables from the audience spoke up in favor of continued support for the Forum—including NSPS president John Thalacker, Donald Bender (1982 NSPS president), Alberta Wood (ACSM officer) and Jane Kennedy, editor of ACSM publications. 

Walter Dix in his Recollections made an interesting observation when discussing events of 1987. He noted that, “This year the feminine tour de force was very apparent. Alberta Auringer Wood was the incoming ACSM president; Mary Clawson, the convention director; Patricia Caldwell Lindgren, an ACSM director; and Maggie O’Donnell, NSPS secretary-treasurer.”

In 1993 the NSPS board supported the Women’s Forum’s proposal for giving a scholarship for women in surveying.

While doing the research for preparing stories about the various NSPS programs over the past 27 years, your author encountered such obstacles as missing minutes (i.e., NSPS board—1986-1991); and, “Sorry, I threw those files out just a few weeks ago;” and “I just don’t recall.” Unfortunately, some of those people who made NSPS history are no longer involved or have passed away. However, there were phone calls and emails that produced some very positive results—including material received from Wendy Woodbury Straight. She was the editor of, and a past chair of the Forum. 

Among the materials coming from Wendy was a very scholarly paper she presented at the FIG XXII International Congress, April 19-26, 2002. It was titled Advances and Reflections: Efforts to include women in United States surveying and mapping, 1981-2001. Another was a copy of one of her articles published in the March 1995 issue of Civil Engineering News. It was titled Breaking the Gender Barrier: a decade of affirmative action in ACSM.

Ms. Straight’s “Gender Barrier” article was filled with interesting accounts of the goings-on over the first decade of the Forum. Many of them covered the material already written above, but from her personal perspective. She opened her presentation with the following paragraphs:

“Startling news was revealed to the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) in its 1981 membership survey: only about one percent of its members were female.”

Coincidentally, it was about that time that female surveyors, although small in number, had begun a loud protest against surveying equipment advertisements that featured female models wearing swimsuits or negligee, or that featured women in inappropriate situations.

Also, about that time, an ACSM student chapter wrote to surveyors’ organizations to question the existence of “women’s programs” at conventions, events that today are more accurately known as “guest programs.”

In her summary of yearly achievements, Ms. Straight in her 1987 account, recognized some of the women who at that time were greatly involved in leadership roles: 

“At the 1987 ACSM fall convention in Reno, NSPS presented a Forum-sponsored session on equal opportunity in government mapping agencies. Nineteen eighty-eight then saw NSPS placing women on a member of national committees and encouraging them to speak at state conventions across the country. Mary Feindt (Michigan), Wendy Lathrop (New Jersey), Susan Jensen (California), Kelly Olin (California), Mary Cummins (Hawaii), Pat Hutchinson (North Carolina), Michaeline Mulvey (Maine), Deborah Naybor (New York), Joanne Crum (New York), Linda Miller (Oregon), and several other women have continued to rise to the highest echelons of national surveying organizations or of their state societies, where they perpetuate examples of success and leadership for female students of surveying. “

Ms. Straight’s concluding remarks were as follows:

“It should be noted that for the most part, the success stories of the Forum for Women in Surveying are attributable not only to the women who developed each endeavor, but also to the many progressive men in ACSM and NSPS who accepted each new idea. Just as ACSM has welcomed phenomenal technological changes in the mapping professions over the past 10 years, so has it generally welcomed diversification of its ranks.

“As governments begin to pull away from affirmative action efforts, it will be up to professional women to continue networking among themselves and to provide mentors for female students. Likewise, it will be up to each professional organization to follow ACSM’s affirmative example in establishing its own opportunity initiatives.”

Over time, the Women’s Forum expanded its outreach to other underrepresented groups to encourage them to enter and rise in the surveying and mapping professions.  As a result, the Women’s Forum became the Equal Opportunity Committee, and continued under that name for several years.  By the time the committee disbanded, women were still not as common as men in surveying (and as of this writing, still are not), but experienced more respect and acceptance within the ranks of ACSM, NSPS, and surveying organizations across the country.


ACSM Anti-Discrimination Policy—1989        

This general policy offers a positive approach intended to help eliminate gender as a bias within the industry. The policy covers the following two areas:

Publications

In all society publications and advertising, a conscious effort by the leadership and staff will be made to use words and phrases that are not sexually biased.

Members who submit entries for ACSM journals and publications will be encouraged to avoid sexual bias in their submissions. The ACSM staff can refuse a written submission, or, when appropriate and with the author’s approval, alter a written submission to make it comply with the standards of this policy. Revisions to written works can be made based upon staff resources and time available to do such revisions.

Advertisements/Exhibits

ACSM will review advertisements and exhibit displays at national meetings to assure that they represent the professional image of the industry. Material that is sexually suggestive will not be accepted 

In order to uphold the integrity of their products or business, the association recommends that suppliers use discretion when sending or giving members specialty advertising items. Calendars and posters that are sexually suggestive offend both male and female members and reflect negatively on the reputation of the supplier.

It is understood that the enforcement of this policy is to apply only to the organizational structure of ACSM. By initiating and implementing this policy, ACSM hopes to set examples that will be followed by the entire surveying and mapping community, thus creating a more professional environment, free from sexual bias.


A special thank you to Wendy Lathrop, president of Cadastral Consulting LLC, for providing reference materials and insights for the preparation of this post.

NSPS Forum for Women in Surveying” Comment

  1. Well done Gavin and Wendy!

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