Agnes Bierman Babcock, archaeologist and mother, dies at home in Portola Valley | March 7, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Community - March 7, 2018

Agnes Bierman Babcock, archaeologist and mother, dies at home in Portola Valley

by Dave Boyce

A memorial service for Agnes Bierman Babcock of Portola Valley will be held Friday, March 16, at 11 a.m. at Saint Denis Catholic Church at 2250 Avy Ave. in Menlo Park.

Ms. Babcock, an archaeologist, mother, civic volunteer and namesake to a complex of caves in Southern California, worked in archaeology at a time when such careers were uncommon for women. She made her exit from the field in her late 30s to begin a second career as a full-time mother. She died at her home in the Westridge neighborhood on Jan. 6 at the age of 94.

Ms. Babcock served on the Portola Valley Planning Commission from 1970 to 1972 and on the town's traffic committee, according to Town Hall officials.

She and her husband, Dean Babcock, shared a commitment to hike the trail on Windy Hill every year on her birthday, Ms. Babcock's daughter Cecile told The Almanac. "The deal was they did it until they couldn't," she said. "She was very physically tough. I don't know when they stopped, but it wasn't very long ago."

Ms. Babcock was a native of Switzerland and moved to Vancouver Island in Canada at the age of 1. She grew up in the United States, moving among major cities as her father, a professor of divinity and philosophy, took teaching positions at various American universities.

Her parents were Dutch and she grew up speaking Dutch at home as well as with her children in Portola Valley. "We spoke English with my dad and Dutch with her," Cecile said. Ms. Babcock also spoke French and Spanish, her daughter said.

As a teenager at the start of World War II, Ms. Babcock tried to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy, but as she was just 17, the Navy wouldn't take her. She found work with the Navy as a radio operator and in the chart department at a shipyard — both occupations that were normally available only to male officers.

Before the war, Ms. Babcock attended Hunter College and Columbia University, both in New York City. After the war, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in archaeology and anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also earned a doctorate in archaeology.

She worked on digs in the American Southwest and was considered a pioneer as a woman in the field. Among the Southern California sites where she worked: Little Lake, China Lake South Range and the Bierman Caves complex in San Bernardino County, which were named after her, her daughter said.

At age 38 Ms. Babcock, in receipt of more than one offer to teach at a university, left archaeology and academia to be a mother, eventually having four children. "She really wanted to focus on being a mom," Cecile said. Her daughter said she once asked her mother if she missed archaeology. She replied that while she loved the work, "she had done that and really given it her all. She loved being a mom too."

She traveled the world, often to notable archaeological sites. She visited Australia and Tasmania and the 17,000-year-old paintings on cave walls in Lascaux, France. In her 80s, she traveled to Lake Baikal in Siberia and slept on a small boat that made stops along the shore to meet residents. "These were not cushy travels," her daughter said. She and her husband went backpacking on their honeymoon.

Ms. Babcock is survived by her husband; by her daughters Cecile of Menlo Park and Meg of Redwood City; by her sons Frank of Bettendorf, Iowa, and Carl of Campbell; and by six grandchildren.

The family asks that donations in Ms. Babcock's name be made to the Archaeological Institute of America in Boston, or to the St. Francis Center in Redwood City.


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