Geneva Smith Douglas
Photo Credit:
Special Collection
University of Nevada Reno Library


The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.

At A Glance:

Born: 1932
Died: 1993
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Las Vegas (Clark)
Major Fields of Work: Science (nuclear physicist, radiation biologist) Public education
Other Role Identities: Wife, Civic activities, Environmentalist


Geneva Smith Douglas was born in 1932 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and received her graduate degree in physiology from Mount Holyoke in 1956. From 1956-1959 she worked as a Research Associate at the University of Rochester Atomic Energy Project, studying the metabolism of nuclear fission products. In 1959 she joined the U.S. Public Health Service as a radiation biologist for the Southwestern Radiological Health Laboratory (later renamed the Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory) in Las Vegas, Nevada. In her dual role as Public Affairs Director for the U.S. Public Health Service and Public Information Director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she acted as a scientific liaison between the nuclear industry and local communities regarding the effects of the nuclear weapons testing program at the Nevada Test Site. In Geneva’s eventual capacity as the Program Operations Manager of the Environmental Monitoring Systems Laboratory, she developed an offsite radiation monitoring program and spent much of her time speaking, advising, conducting tours, and writing informational brochures and fact sheets regarding nuclear testing and community safety.

Although Geneva retired from the Environmental Protection Agency in 1985, she continued to advise the scientific community on matters relating to nuclear safety. She participated in and evaluated full-scale field exercises of the Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan in Florida (1984) and Illinois (1986) and the VENTREX exercises at the Nevada Test Site (1986-1987). She also acted as a technical liaison and EPA spokesperson following accidental releases of radioactivity from U.S. and Chinese nuclear weapons tests, and advised the emergency response crew during the krypton venting phase of cleanup following the nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island. In addition, she prepared and delivered Congressional testimony relating to nuclear testing, radiation exposure, and nuclear waste repositories.

In addition to her busy professional career, Geneva was active at all levels of Soroptomist International, one of the five largest women’s service organizations in the world. She was a charter member of Soroptomist International of Greater Las Vegas, and held most club offices, including two terms as club president. In 1980, she was elected to the office of regional governor of the Sierra Nevada Region, which consisted of about forty-five clubs in California and Nevada. Between 1982-1984 she served as Environmental Advisor for Soroptomist International of the Americas, a federation of clubs in twenty countries. Geneva attended her first international convention in Istanbul in 1983, as a silent observer, and was appointed member of the Long Range Planning Group for Soroptomist International. Between 1987-1991 she served as the International Programme Liaison and was responsible for coordinating international service programs in the areas of Economic and Social Development, Education, Environment, Health, Human Rights/Status of Women, and International Goodwill and Understanding. As International Program Liaison, she developed a database of club service activities relating to international programs, helped write and revise Soroptomists’ statements and positions, and created a roster of Soroptomists with special expertise for consulting purposes.

In 1986, Governor Richard Bryan named Geneva Douglas to chair the newly formed “Governor’s Advisory Committee on Volunteerism,” whose focus was to discover and coordinate volunteer leadership and activities within the State of Nevada. In just a few months, Geneva had coordinated several workshops on volunteer resources and training, and organized the first statewide Conference on Volunteerism, with representatives from business and service organizations and government agencies.

Geneva also served on the steering committee of the Friends of Nevada Wilderness between 1985-1987. This coalition of environmental groups functioned to lobby the State and U.S. Congress to retain Nevada wilderness areas, and to encourage the state to purchase public lands for statewide protection. In her capacity as chairperson, she helped the group organize and focus their efforts on preparing statements and congressional testimony relating to wilderness preservation.

Biographical sketch by Sally Wilkins