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NSF grant to help explore historical impacts on fertility

Towner webThe National Science Foundation has awarded a researcher at Oklahoma State University a $203,000 grant to study the impact early hardships had on fertility among American Indian women in historical Oklahoma. The project will also explore how fertility patterns varied, depending on tribal nation and place of residence within Oklahoma. 

Human behavioral ecologist Mary Towner and her collaborator Kermyt Anderson, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma, will use historical data, such as the 1910 U.S. Census, to gauge the effects of migration and ethnicity on fertility variation. Other research sources will include records archived by the Office of American Indian Culture and Preservation at the Oklahoma Historical Society. 

“Although we know a fair amount about the high disease and death rates experienced by Native Americans forced to relocate to Oklahoma, much less is known about how women's reproductive lives were impacted—for example, their marriage histories, pregnancies, and birth spacing,” said Towner, an assistant professor, OSU Department of Integrative Biology.

The researchers expect the 1910 census will be particularly useful for this project because women of the households were asked how many children they had, and how many were still alive. The census also included a supplemental set of questions for American Indians.

Towner brings 20 years of professional experience using historical records to conduct research as a human behavioral ecologist. Her past studies include the importance of marriage and inheritance on human migration in New England between 1750-1850, long-distance migration of silver prospectors to Colorado, and a study of declining women’s fertility (defined as number of children) in Bangladesh during the last 50 years. 

Though not an Oklahoma native, Towner discovered she does have ancestral ties to this part of the country. 

“I really love doing my own genealogy and family history, and found I have a few extended branches of ancestors that passed through Oklahoma.”

The project will also support OSU graduate student training and provide undergraduates – including American Indian students – an opportunity to engage in STEM research.  Students interested in learning more about the project are invited to contact Towner via email at