Jean Langenheim’s Interdisciplinary Explorations

Jean Harmon Langenheim September 5, 1925 – March 28, 2021
We are sad to report that Dr. Langenheim passed away last Sunday at the age of 95. She will be missed by many who knew and worked with her. Obituary from University of California, Santa Cruz.

Obsessed with ideas of “how it all fit together,” Dr. Jean Langenheim, in reflecting on her long career, finds a “unifying aspect to the research I’ve done” (JH Langenheim, 2016a). Ranging from paleobotany to chemical ecology to the history of ecology, her topics and efforts spanned a period from women’s roles as secondary to their spouses, to their own recognized research accomplishments and leadership roles in major scientific organizations.

Dr. Jean Langenheim
Dr. Jean Langenheim

Many wives have had to remain in the background of their husband’s or colleague’s work and, in fact, women until the late 1970s received little recognition for their part on often large projects. My CV was evidence of this with relatively few publications scattered over many topics but not in my name as senior author… Now it was my time to come forward. — JH Langenheim, 2016b

A pioneer for women in her field, Jean Langenheim was the only woman W.S. Cooper took as a doctoral student among a number of male students who became leaders in plant ecology. She was the only woman in the natural sciences at UCSC from 1966 to about 1972, and was the first woman to be promoted to Professor in 1973, when she became Chair of the Biology Department. She was the first woman elected president of two national scientific societies, and only the second for two others, one of which was ESA.
1946 University of Tulsa, B.S., Summa Cum Laude (Biology)
1949 University of Minnesota, M.S. (Botany with minor in Geology)
1953 University of Minnesota, Ph.D. (Botany with minor in Geology, Dr. W.S. Cooper, advisor)
Career Highlights
1953-66: Faculty Member, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory; Member of Board of Directors (1962-65); Vice President (1965-66)
1954-59: Research Associate in Department of Botany, University of California, Berkeley
1955-66: Lecturer, Instructor, Research Associate at San Francisco College for Women and Mills College
1962-66: Research Fellow (Biological Laboratories), Research Associate (Botanical Museum), Harvard University
1966-94: Professor (Asst, Assoc, full) at University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)
1994 on: Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz
2000-06: Research Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz

I loved teaching and was fortunate that several part-time positions opened in women’s colleges in San Francisco—essentially the only places for women at this time to teach in a high quality college. I taught one year at Mills College and several years at San Francisco College for Women. These experiences at fine liberal arts colleges, where women’s issues were at the forefront, prepared me [for] action supporting women scientists, as well as for later teaching at UCSC with a liberal arts approach to undergraduate education.
— JH Langenheim, 2016b

Dr. Harriet Barclay
Dr. Harriet Barclay, right, with students on a 1946 field trip at Virginia Basin, near Rocky Mtn Biological Laboratory. Jean Langenheim is behind Harriet in white.

During her early career, she also became an instructor in field ecology at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) at Gothic, Colorado. Her interest in the history of ecology grew, initiated from some of Cooper’s teaching of the early beginnings of ecology during graduate work, and extended as she witnessed the development of population ecology while in California.
While in the Midwest, Dr. Langenheim appreciated extended field trips with Dr. Larry Bliss (a third generation ecologist in the Cooper genealogy) and his graduate students. Trips to the southeastern U.S. increased her plant geographical view of the eastern deciduous forest, an area of much plant geographical discussion in ecology.
From August 1986 to August 1987, Dr. Langenheim served as ESA’s second female president. She reflected on this experience in conjunction with the Presidents timeline project she completed for the ESA centennial in 2015. She undertook that effort to survey and record the experiences of each living ESA past president.
Because of its timing, Dr. Langenheim’s career provides particular insight into the lives of women in science. As a young ecologist, she was hampered by neopotism laws, but prevailed with research and teaching positions. After her divorce in 1962, she became a research fellow at Radcliffe and worked in the lab of paleobotanist Elso Barghoorn, where she studied Harvard’s collection of amber. This led her to long-term chemical ecological research on the evolution of several resin-producing trees in the equatorial tropics.

Remember, to do tropical chemical ecology, you have to start from scratch on practically everything—the varying chemistry in the plant, basic systematics of the plant group, kinds of insects and microbes that attack the plant and how to design experiments to study how the plant deals with them, variation in all of the chem ecology with the plants within your group growing in rain forests, dry desert-type conditions, etc.
— JH Langenheim, 2016b

A woman, Jean Signs, signs a copy of her book.
At the HRC booth, Jean signs a copy of her Plant Resins book. Annual Meeting Aug 8, 2011.

Throughout her career, Jean Langenheim was a leader with a multidisciplinary perspective, a devoted, innovative teacher, and a researcher noted for her enthusiasm—always ready for a challenge of new perspectives. Although she officially retired in 1994, she continued to be active on faculty committees, in overseeing doctoral students, and with professional organizations including ESA. She endowed graduate fellowships in plant ecology and evolution at UCSC and RMBL as well as a Chair in this area in the UCSC Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. In 2010, she published her “Odyssey,” detailing the story of her innovative career in field ecology.
Read more about Dr. Langenheim’s career (pdf).
Explore Dr. Langenheim’s work in the history of women in ecology on this site.

Jean Langenheim stands by a poster at an ESA annual meeting and discusses it with someone.
Dennis Knight and Jean Langenheim, Portland 2012.

Selected Honors and Recognition
1967 Elected Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science
1972 Cooley Award, American Society of Plant Taxonomists
1975-77 Academic Vice President, Organization for Tropical Studies
1979 Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Tulsa
1985 President, Association for Tropical Biology
1986-87 President, Ecological Society of America and International Society of Chemical Ecology
1993-94 President, Society for Economic Botany
2006 American Botanical Society Centennial Award
2011 Honorary Member, Sigma Delta Epsilon (Graduate Women in Science)
2012: Fellow, Ecological Society of America
Selected Contributions
1956. Langenheim JH. Plant succession on a subalpine earthflow in Colorado. Ecology 17:301-17
1957. Mason HL & Langenheim,JH Language analysis and the concept of environment. Ecology 18:325-339
1962. Langenheim JH. Vegetation and Environmental Patterns in the Crested Butte Area, Gunnison county, Colorado. Ecol Monog. 32: 249-85
1961. Mason, HL.& Langenheim, JH. Natural selection as an ecological concept. Ecology 42: 148-165
1961. Langenheim JH. Late Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic plant fossils from the Cordillera Orientale and correlation of the Giron Formation. Bol Geol. VIII Servicio National de C olombia 99-118.
1962. Langenheim JH and J W Durham. Closed cone pine flora from travertine near Little Sur California. Madrono 17:33-51
1964. Langenheim JH. Present status of botanical studies of ambers. Harvard Botanical Museum Leaflets 20: 225-287
1996. Langenheim JH. The Early History and Progress of Women Ecologists: Emphasis on Research Contributions. Annual Review of Ecological Systems, 27:1-53.
2003. Langenheim JH. Plant Resins: Chemistry, Evolution, Ecology and Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press.
2010. Langenheim JH. The Odyssey of a Woman Field Scientist: A Story of Passion, Persistence, and Patience. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris.
2016a. Langenheim JH. Email to SL White, July 2, 2016. Cover note to 2016b.
2016b. Langenheim JH. Ever Interest in Viewing Nature Through Interdisciplinary Thought, 23 pp.