WWII Hero and Winsor Alumna Mary Sears 1923 Remembered in Book, Assembly

November 10, 2022—On the heels of Veterans Day, the Winsor community had the opportunity to learn about Mary Sears, a Winsor graduate, veteran, and marine scientist whose pioneering work in oceanography was integral to the success of the Navy in World War II. Winsor welcomed special guest Dr. Catherine Musemeche, a pediatric surgeon and author whose book Lethal Tides: Mary Sears and the Marine Biologists Who Helped Win WWII, was published earlier this year in March.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Giovanna De Vito (Winsor '16) introduced the assembly virtually. Now a Public Affairs Officer for the US Navy, Lt. De Vito spoke about her experience hearing from Vietnam veterans during an assembly while a student at Winsor. Lt. De Vito credits the mentorship of female service members as integral to her application to the armed forces. “The greatest role models [are] women I have served with and women who have served before me,” reflected Lt. De Vito. She then introduced the morning assembly’s speaker, Dr. Musemeche.

Following research conducted for her book, Lethal Tides, Dr. Musemeche spoke on the life and contributions of Mary Sears, detailing her time at Winsor and her career as an expert in oceanography, a World War II Veteran, and a legend in the Navy. 

Mary Sears graduated from Winsor nearly 100 years ago in 1923, and went on to help found Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1930. At the time, oceanography was considered a “man’s field” because of the ships and expeditions required of the scientists, but Mary found a way to succeed nonetheless. Dr. Musemeche reminded the audience of current students of the amount of progress that has been made. “When I was a student, we didn't have women veterans to look up to,” she recalled. “Now in all the ranks we have women veterans.”

Dr. Musemeche says she was inspired to write a book after talking to her father, who was a World War II Veteran. As she recalls, “I found out he was in some of these major battles of the Pacific, and we had never talked about it before. I had just been studying Mary Sears, and I made the connection that she put together some of the reports that affected my father’s safety, and I started gathering information to put together a book.”

Following a question from a student in the audience, Dr. Musemeche continued to speak on her source of inspiration. “Mary Sears was the generation of women ahead of me,” offered Dr. Musemeche. “I went to medical school when there were very few women, but when you saw one, you knew you could be there, too. Women were only able to inhabit a tiny corner of their profession, but they made the most of that opportunity and inspired me to write about it.”

A copy of Dr. Musemeche’s book, Lethal Tides, is available in the Virginia Wing Library.
A special thanks to Director of Community and Inclusion Julian Braxton for organizing the assembly and to Archivist Margaret Warren for providing Dr. Musemeche access to Winsor’s archives while writing about Mary Sears.