The Remarkable Legacy of Eloise Gerry 

Eloise Gerry worked as a wood scientist at the Forest Products Laboratory from 1910 through 1954.

The Forest Products Laboratory has greatly benefitted from its wealth of women scientists. Starting it all was Eloise Gerry, who joined the Lab at its inception in 1910. Gerry made ground-breaking discoveries for 44 years. 

Originally a Bostonian, Eloise earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science with a special interest in forestry at the Radcliffe College for Women at Harvard University. Completing a graduate degree in the early 1900s was rare for anyone, but of far greater rarity for a woman. She was drawn to microscopy and used this skill to identify wood specimens.  

After years of specialized education and training, Gerry began to look for work that would allow her to further explore her interests and contribute to the world. Despite her outstanding educational background, her job search could have been years in the making. Fortunately for Gerry and the Forest Products Lab, she saw an ad that led to her dream career.  

The Lab had advertised for a researcher in its new Wood Anatomy division, using masculine pronouns for “such a man.” Gerry later recalled: “They did not want a woman, but as it happened, there wasn’t any man willing to come and do the work.” 

Gerry’s southern pines program rescued the turpentine industry
Gerry’s numerous scientific studies are still relevant today

Despite the Lab’s desire to hire a man, Eloise became the Lab’s first female scientist in what is known today as the Center for Wood Anatomy Research. Her work focused on the anatomical and physiological study of wood.  

By the late 1910s and now a transplanted Wisconsonite, Gerry made sure she was able to travel in her job to pursue major field work in other states. 

She traveled on horseback, in Ford Model Ts, and on foot through the woods of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi to collect samples. She studied them under her microscope and helped to restore businesses that were dependent on resin and turpentine by proving that lumberjacks were cutting too many of the area’s pine trees.1 

Eloise Gerry is seen here in 1936 with her beloved wire-haired terrier, Penny.

Earning her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1922, her dissertation, “Oleoresin Production: A Microscopic Study of the Effects Produced on Woody tissues of Southern Pines by Different Methods of Turpentining” is still relevant today. This and many of her other studies from her 120 technical journal publications can be found at bookstores, the Forest Products Library, and public libraries all over the United States.  

In one of her few known acts of rebellion against the sensibility of the times, Eloise always signed her full name, rather than using a single first initial, so that it was clear she was a woman. 

Dr. Eloise Gerry is perhaps best known today for her research in increasing the life and production of Southern pine trees, which was highly influential and significantly contributed to the production of turpentine, turning around an industry that had been floundering previously. The title of her program that changed the industry was: “More turpentine, less scar, better pine.” 

“The microscope reveals many secrets concerning the activities of the tree in producing turpentine and gives these results more quickly than experimental methods alone,” Eloise told The Atlanta Constitution in 1922. 

Fortunately for the country and its allies during World War I and World War II, the years Eloise worked as a devoted scientist at the Lab resulted in her many improvements to the production of military supplies. 

Dr. Eloise Gerry was memorialized on this plaque by the Florida Society of American Foresters, as she was posthumously inducted into the FSAF Hall of Fame in 2022.

Eloise Gerry was widely admired by her friends everywhere and not just for her remarkable professional life. On a personal level, she was typically described as possessing a friendly and welcoming spirit. She especially loved children and dogs. She led tours of the Lab for children and wrote several children’s books in her lifetime. She was also a member of her local kennel club. 

Shortly after her retirement in 1954, her longtime friend, neighbor, and Lab colleague Benson H. Paul, said of her: “She has given of herself not only in scientific fields but in the world about her with the generous impulses of a warm heart. Evidently, she has made a life pattern from the living forest that gives and gives yet seeks nothing in return.”  

Eloise’s legacy lives on. In 2022, the Florida Division of the Southeastern Society of American Foresters – State Home ( inducted her into its Hall of Fame. Dr. Eloise Gerry is the first woman in its history to receive this honor.  

1 From “Eloise Gerry” by Adam Schrager. OnWisconsin, Spring 2022