Mary Meader: Another Pioneer Signs the AGS Globe
By Mary Lynne Bird
On November 21, 2006 a pioneer of aerial photography, Mary Meader, placed her signature on the Fliers’ & Explorers’ Globe at a special ceremony in her honor held at the Upjohn Center on the campus of Western
Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Actually, Ms. Meader wrote her name on the globe in two places, something only three of the more than 70 previous signers have been invited to do. She wrote her name across East Africa and across the Andes, commemorating the pioneering aerial photography she carried out in 1937-1939 in Africa and South America with her then husband, Richard Upjohn Light. Light was the pilot and mechanic on those ventures. Ms. Meader was the photographer, navigator, and radio operator.
Flying a single engine plane, with unheated and unpressurized cabin, the couple sucked oxygen from a tank using wooden mouthpieces, and Ms. Meader wore a fur coat and boots as she shot pictures through an open window. Since she weighed only 95 pounds herself, she braced the 20-pound camera on the window frame and secured it with a clothesline.
Something of the quality and significance of the photographic record Ms. Meader created can be seen in a permanent exhibit at the Upjohn Center and in a traveling exhibit of her work created by Monica Barnes of the Society of Woman Geographers.
AGS President, Jerome E. Dobson, and Executive Director, Mary Lynne Bird, went to Kalamazoo to carry out the signing ceremony. The citation read on the occasion follows:
On October 10, 2005, when Mary Upjohn Meader was made an Honorary Fellow of the American Geographical Society, the citation read termed her a geographer, photographer, scholar, and explorer. It applauded her keen and curious eye for uncovering information about the unknown. The stunning quality of her photography shows not only her skill and her artistry but her passion for conveying new knowledge about remote places on Earth. With her camera, Mary Upjohn Meader captured the lives and landscapes of traditions and cultures in Africa and Latin America that no longer exist. Because of that, her work has taken on ever greater significance in today’s rapidly changing world.
By inviting her to inscribe her name on the Flyers’ & Explorers’ Globe, the American Geographical Society celebrates the courage, vision, and spirit with which Mary Upjohn Meader pursued “research from above” in circumstances too difficult and dangerous for us to imagine today. For generations to come, her signature on this globe, in company with those of such pioneers as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Neil Armstrong, will attest to the stature of her achievements.
David Dickason, outgoing Chair of the Geography Department at the university, organized the event, which was attended by the president, provost, and many faculty and staff, as well as family and friends of the Meader and Light families.
The Council and Fellows of the American Geographical Society are grateful to all who helped with the special arrangements necessary for an event the Society has long wanted to carry out.