A Brief History of the New England Intercollegiate Geologic Conference


Dabney W. Caldwell, Department of Geology, Boston University, Boston MA 02215
Thomas Weddle, Maine Geological Survey, State House Station 22, Augusta, ME 04333

The New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference (NEIGC) began in 1901 with a field trip led by William Morris Davis to the terraces of the Westfield River in south-central Massachusetts, that was reported in Davis’ 1902 paper in American Journal of Science. The conference has met annually since that time, with exceptions during World Wars I and II, and a two-year gap during 1913 and 1914. The NEIGC may be the oldest "non-organization" in North America whose sole purpose is to organize and present field trips in areas of recent geologic mapping and topical studies.

The meetings from 1902 to 1905 went unreported. In 1906, Herdman Cleland (Williams College) was appointed permanent secretary, to report the annual meeting minutes to Science magazine. Reports of the early meetings from 1906 to 1935 can be found in that journal under the heading of the New England Geological Excursion (with several years unreported, including 1908, 1912 1915, 1917, 1921, 1923, and 1925). In 1924, Wilbur Foye (Wesleyan University) was appointed second secretary, which position he held until 1935. Edward Perkins (Colby College) was appointed third secretary in 1935. However, he died unexpectedly in 1936, and it wasn't until 1939 that Lloyd Fisher (Bates College) was appointed fourth secretary. From 1936 to 1950, only three years were reported in Science, most likely attributable to the changes in the secretary position, the WW II hiatus, changes in Science format after 1950, and the advent of NEIGC field trip guidebooks (first published in 1938). Guidebooks after 1938 were published irregularly until 1959, but have been published regularly since.

The meeting reports in Science are a wonderful collection of accounts of the field excursions. The early trips were led by one or two geologists and were professionally attended, with few students present. Bedrock and surficial geology components of the trips were combined, and evening lectures and discussions were part of the meeting schedule. Travel arrangements for the early trips aren't known. However, the Waterville (Maine) Morning Sentinel of October 7, 1925, reported that participants of the first meeting of the NElGC to he held in Maine were to be conveyed by auto. Several meeting minutes note the closing of the field trip was based on train schedules. Student attendance increased following WW I, and the specialization of field trips began to appear. Marland Billings, (who first attended the NEIGC in 1921 and acted as interim secretary at times) indicated that although handouts for field trips often accompanied the meeting, the trips were so informal as compared to today's field trips that, unfortunately, the details of these early meetings probably have been lost. The Harvard College Library has a complete collection of NEIGC guidebooks since 1959, as well as earlier guidebooks for the years 1938, 1952, 1954, and 1957.

In 2003, Michelle Markley of Mt. Holyoke College kindly gave the NEIGC Secretary a collection of early field trip handouts that were originally compiled by Robert Balk. These handouts include trips for the years 1920, 1923, 1925 to 1928, 1931, 1934 to 1949, 1951, and 1953. Along with the previously mentioned guidebooks and the Science reports, the handouts provide a more detailed history of the early years of NEIGC. Copies of these documents also reside at the Harvard College Library.

Since 1951, the following individuals have served as secretary; John Lucke, University of Connecticut (1951 to 1959), fifth secretary; John Rodgers, Yale University (1960 to 1968), sixth secretary; and Dee Caldwell, Boston University (1969 to 1995), seventh secretary. Caldwell served longer than any other NEIGC secretary. In 1995, Caldwell turned over the secretary's duties to Lindley S. Hanson of Salem State College. Due to the demands of family life, Lindley decided to pass on the responsibility, and in 2000,Tom Weddle of the Maine Geological Survey was elected the ninth Secretary of the NEIGC.

The NEIGC has since welcomed undergraduate students and is particularly aimed at their participation, although field trips are presented to the professional level; consequently, the number of attendees at meetings has increased dramatically. Similarly, the size of the field trip guidbook has increased significantly (two volumes in 1992!), with field trips quite regularly cited in professional publications. The largest number of meetings has been hosted in Massachusetts, followed by Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island. The conference has met outside of New England, in New York, Quebec, and New Brunswick. While still the only officer of the nonorganization, the secretary no longer reports the meeting events, but rather ensures a meeting place for future conferences. Nonorganizational rules have been unofficially established and include no dues, evening papers, talks, or lectures. The sole purpose of the NElGC is, as it has always been, to present field trips in interesting geologic areas.