Ruth Patrick, Philly-Based Science Pioneer, Dead at 105
Ruth Patrick, a pioneer in studying the health of freshwater streams and rivers who laid the scientific groundwork for modern pollution control efforts, died on Monday in Lafayette Hill, Pa. She was 105.
Her death, at the Hill at Whitemarsh retirement community, was announcedby the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. She had been associated with the academy for more than 70 years.
Dr. Patrick, an adviser to presidents and the recipient of distinguished science awards, was one of the country’s leading experts in the study of freshwater ecosystems, or limnology. She achieved that renown after entering science in the 1930s, when few women were able to do so, and working for the academy for eight years without pay.
“She was worried about and addressing water pollution before the rest of us even thought of focusing on it,” James Gustave Speth, a former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said in an e-mail message.
From 1933 to 2003, Dr. Patrick published more than 200 papers and contributed to books. She taught botany and limnology at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 35 years. After studying the water quality near DuPont chemical plants, she became an adviser to the company on environmental issues and, in 1975, was named the first woman on its board of directors.
At a White House ceremony in 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Science.
Until she turned 97, Dr. Patrick worked five days a week at the Academy of Natural Sciences, whose limnology center is named in her honor. At 100, she still came in to her office to work on her multi-volume text “Rivers of the United States,” whose installments ran up to 900 pages.
“Many of the things that we take for granted now, in terms water quality and water purity, would not be where they are without her,” Peck said. “Ruth Patrick always tried to apply what she was studying to broader social concerns and helped to make the work relevant. She thought that, ultimately, the reason for studying all this was to help to improve human life and the life of the natural world.”