Mary-Hill French, a geologist who prepared bomb target maps for the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II, became the first woman professional hired by the iron-mining industry in northern Minnesota, and collaborated for more than half a century in the research and writings of her husband, a NASA geologist and planetary scientist, died on July 26, 2019, in Bethesda, Md. She was 102 years old. Her husband, Bevan M. French, said that the cause of death was complications from a pulmonary infection.
Originally intending to become either a lawyer or a journalist when she arrived at college in 1934, Ms. French instead majored in geology after a freshman course with an exciting and inspiring professor. Needing tuition money, she happily accepted the job of geology lab instructor, and the die was cast. During the eight decades after graduation, she continually and energetically combined a wide range of different activities into a long and active life: graduate study, engineering work for a mining company, marriage, family, travel and service to a wide range of scientific, educational, and social organizations.
Born Mary-Hill Kueffner, on Nov. 14, 1916, in St. Paul, Minn., the daughter of William and Helen Kueffner. She attended Summit School in St. Paul, and Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., receiving a B.A. in 1938 Magna Cum Laude with a major in Geology. She subsequently received an M.A. in Geology from Carleton, then began work on a Ph.D. degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. In 1943, she married Tappan Childs, a civil engineer from St. Paul, with whom she had three children. Upon his sudden death in 1957, Ms. Childs found a geological position with Pickands Mather on the Mesabi Range. She was the first woman to be employed in a professional capacity by an iron-mining company and probably one of the first women to be employed professionally in the overall mining industry. Ms. Childs became a member, and one of a few women, in the American Association of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers (AIME), presented papers on her work at national meetings, and published her results in the Association’s technical books and other publications. Since 1967, she was also a constant colleague, collaborator and editor in the research, professional travels, publications, and educational activities of her second husband, Bevan M. French, now a retired NASA geologist, planetary scientist, and program administrator.
Ms. French participated in Welcome to Washington, a group which provided joint educational and social activities for local residents and foreign visitors, and in the Geological Society of Washington, a local professional group, in which she served for two years as a member of the council and as assistant treasurer for a year. Asked in an interview about what shaped her life, Ms. French answered, “Curiosity and the depression, which meant a constant need for money, cheerfulness and a sense of responsibility. So many people helped me that I wanted in return to help them and any others who might need money as I had. And there was the enjoyment of all the good things; each thing kept me looking forward to the next.”
She is survived by Bevan M. French, her husband of 51 years; two son; one daughter; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Funeral: A private mass will be celebrated at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 3630 Quesada Street, Washington, DC.
Memorials: Contributions in her memory may be made to the Kueffner Scholarship Fund, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057.
Arrangements are with Francis J. Collins Funeral Home in Silver Spring, Md.