Women scientists lost and found

Laura Bassi, professor of anatomy and natural philosophy at the University of Bologna in the 18th century

Just a quick note to mention that I have just published an article in Encyclopedia Britannica on the history of women in science. It was tough to pick out just a few names in the 4500 years or so that the article covers (especially as I had a tight word limit). The ones I’ve included illustrated particular social factors that helped them to exercise their scientific minds: the brief flowering in Enlightenment Italy that saw both Laura Bassi and Maria Agnesi appointed professors at Bologna; the opening of women’s colleges in the late 19th century that proved a rich source of scientific assistance to the astronomer Edward Pickering or the geneticist Edward Bateson; the women’s movement that finally opened so many more doors.

The ‘lost’ women of science seems to be quite a topic of debate. There’s also a nice piece by Uta Frith on the Royal Society’s history of science blog, about the palaeontologist Mary Morland. She married Oxford University’s founding Reader in Geology and dinosaur discoverer William Buckland, bore him nine children, edited and illustrated his manuscripts and coped with the mental breakdown of his final years.

My recent experience as a biographer of scientists suggests that being a scientist is a bigger handicap than being a woman when it comes to penetrating  the public consciousness.

One thought on “Women scientists lost and found”

  1. Have you omitted Ida Noddack, the chemist who wrote to Otto Hahn suggesting that Fermi’s experiments with U235 were explicable as Nuclear fission giving barium daughters ? Of course the physicists all retorted that they were producing a new element unknown to chemistry. Hahn said he would not even mention Noddacks ideas because they would make her a’laughing stock’. It was not until Lise Meitner was threatening to publish first that Hahn and Strasseman rushed out their nobel winner

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