Cornelia Clermont Cameron, an internationally recognized peat geologist, was born in 1911 near Iowa City, Iowa, to John Edwin Cameron and Harriet Clearman Cameron. John Cameron, born in 1867, worked as a professor of natural sciences and botany in Missouri and at the University of Iowa, also worked as a professional photographer. Harriet Cameron, born in 1872, earned an MS in geology in 1904 and later completed the coursework for a PhD in botany. John Cameron died of influenza in the 1918 epidemic. Harriet Cameron raised Cornelia and her brother, William, on a farm near Iowa City.
Cornelia Cameron earned a BA in 1933 and an MS in 1935 in botany at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). After completing the MS degree, she worked for the Cities Service Oil Company in Wichita, Kansas, and then the Iowa Geological Survey. She subsequently earned a PhD in geology at the State University of Iowa in 1940. She taught geology at Stephens College from 1942 to 1951. From 1951 until her death in 1994, Cameron worked for the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Cameron's career with the USGS began in the Military Geology Branch, where she performed terrain analysis based on literature, photography interpretation, and field studies. She was the senior author of an Army Field Manual on terrain intelligence. From 1953 to 1964, she did fieldwork in over thirty countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Nigeria. During this period, she wrote fifty reports on water resources and engineering construction and foundations. In Korea, she served as an engineering geology consultant to the United Nations forces. Cameron's mother, Harriet Cameron, frequently accompanied her daughter on overseas fieldwork until she died in 1975 at the age of 103.
Cameron developed the concept of peat as a mineral resource and was at the forefront of a renewed interest in peat as a soil additive and energy source in the twentieth century. She was instrumental in establishing a standard classification for the commercial use of peat and wrote one of the first textbooks in the United States that relates geology to society, The Earth in Human Affairs, first published in 1945. Cameron was the senior author of a five-volume work on peat resources in Maine and wrote dozens of articles on the subject.
In 1977, Cameron received the Meritorious Service Award from the USGS. She received a special commendation from the Maine state legislature in 1984. In 1986, the U.S. Department of the Interior presented her with the Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her thirty-five year career in military and engineering geology and mineral resources. Cameron died of cancer in 1994 at the age of eighty-three at her home in Winchester, Virginia.