Dr. Mary Jo Read was born in Pella, Iowa, February 2, 1911, daughter of Orlan and Bessie Read. Following elementary and high school in Pella, she attended Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) and received her BA in 1931. Dr. Read completed a master’s degree in geography at the University of Chicago in 1932.
After several years of public school teaching, she progressed to college level instruction joining the faculty of Milwaukee State Teachers College (currently the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) in 1940. Aside from a brief period during World War II when she taught at the University of Washington, Dr. Read remained with the Department of Geography until 1965, serving as its Chair from 1958 to 1963. During her early years in Milwaukee, she was the first woman to complete the PhD in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1942. Read spent ten years as Professor of Geography at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, retiring in 1975 with emeritus status and returned to Milwaukee for her retirement.
Read was in great demand as a lecturer, since she excelled in photography and had documented her adventures around the world. Her travels included every continent and she was one of the first tourists in Antartica. Professionally, she was widely recognized as a specialist on the cultural geography of Latin America.