At what level were women participating in the sciences (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, engineering, etc.) in the 18th and 19th centuries
The question about the role and contribution of women in science has been a key research question in many studies. Women in sciences have also evolved into being a course that one can take at a university level. It is an important question to understand the role of women in science in 18th and 19th century. The most import thing to understand what as the significant contribution that women played during the two centuries. This research looks at the contribution of women in science in 18th and 19th centuries. There has been under-representation of women in science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. The process or stages that women get out of the sciences career systems starts from high school. Most women express their desire to take up sciences once they join colleges or universities. However, most of the women change their mind during the selection of their courses at this level. Another method that students get out of STEM careers is where they take sciences in their post-secondary education, but before they graduate they drop all the majors in sciences. The few numbers of those who graduate with sciences end up taking other field careers than the one they trained. The level of dropout of the STEM system is higher in female students compared to male. According to NCES (2001) it is clear that women are under-represented in sciences, technology and mathematics. However, this is the current state of affairs, how was it in 18th and 19th Century. This paper will look at the background of women participation in sciences, and then look at the factors that facilitated them either to be successful or failed to influence science in the early centuries. This paper will dwell on the names and contributions women made in 18th and 19th centuries. It will further look at the environment and conditions for each of the successes women made.
Feminists focused on ideologies, politics, economics and metaphysics of traditional science and demonstrated the biasness that happened in regard to sex, race, class, sexual orientation and other categories. Most of the feminist critiques were from those who were in the science field and it was hard to determine the knowledge base of feminist scientists. Currently many research studies are asking a very pertinent question. Where are the women in sciences? There has been answers given out which have become a norm. There have been varied views that women did not make any significant contribution to mathematics and sciences. It is also said that women are ill-equipped in dealing with a high level science career. While others believe those women perusing science courses end up jeopardizing their well-being and that of their families (Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz & Thompson, 1980). According to new evidence the chances of women moving up to top managerial position in a hierarchical organization structure in the world of sciences are very high (Sonnert & Holton, 1996). This means that women can achieve same as men. However, the answers that are given to explain the current status of women scientists are discouraging. To be able to understand this concept of women in sciences, it is important to look back over time and re-examine the role of women in science. The first check point of women in science will be the period of The European Renaissance. This was the time when women were successful in the science field across Europe. This was between 14th and 17th century. However, the plight of women in sciences is not new in 1405, Christine de Pizan wrote a book entitled Book of the City of Ladies. In this book the author raised a question about the contribution of women in sciences and art. The author answers the question by pointing out the key contribution of women in writing and calculation. The renaissance period was a time when women were flourishing in the science fields such as biology, physics, mathematics, astronomy and physiology. The key findings during this period have been considered as the fundamental blocks of the current science.
According to Ede & Cormack (2012) science has changed the universe and humanity. This means that the history of science should have a clear focus. Focusing on gender and women is an important aspect of the research. Women contribution in science in the modern not new and it is indeed ancient (Schiebinger, 1991). Hypatia is one of the ancient woman scientists in the west. She was a mathematician and astronomer who lived in Egypt in the 4th century. There was a lot control over women in the early centuries. For instance, after the achievement of Hypatia in mathematics, she was murdered because of her public option. She was famous, and many came to the university to listen to her lectures. She also authored many mathematics textbooks. Her strong stand on social issues was not welcomed especially by the Christians. Hypatia was stripped naked and killed in the church by the mob because her views were different from those of the Christians. These are just some of the historical perspectives and struggle the women scientists faced. During this time up to the 12th century, the church was dominating education in the West and only learned nuns were allowed to make their contributions.
The 17th century marked the beginning of modern science where there was a shift in the science field. There was a change in science institutions where science was not only in the universities but also in the science academies (Schiebinger, 1991). The Royal Society of London, the Academie des Sciences in Paris and the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin were established (McKie, 1948). However, there was no women member in these institutions for over 300 years. The question raised is why it took this long to admit women members in the institution. I believe it was not the case that women were not qualified to take up membership in the academies. According to history there were about 14 per cent of women working as astronomers in Germany in the 18th century. Maria Winkelmann is an example of a women astronomer that wanted to be appointed as an assistant astronomer in Berlin in 1710 and calendar-maker (Schiebinger, 1987). This tells us that even few years after the academies were established there were women in the science field. Her request was denied despite the support from the president of the academy. Lise Meitner a woman who together with Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission was just admitted in the academy as a corresponding member in 1940s. Despite here crucial contribution in science was not full admitted into the academy (Sime, 1996). Lise was a female scientist that came out against the sexist views to achieve as a physicist.
Laura Bassi was the first woman in 18th century in the modern times to teach at the university level and the second woman to be awarded a degree (Findlen, 1993). She was a lecturer in the field of physics which is a difficult area to many women at this time. She was awarded a doctorate and appointed to teach by the pope at Bologna University (Findlen, 1993). This great success came into her life despite the fact that she had twelve children. This means that she was able to manage both her career and motherhood. Child bearing was not a problem to the middle-class women n 18th century compared to the recent years. This is because women who gave birth during those years immediately gave their children to wet nurse who took care of them. There has been a continued contribution of women in science through the 19th century. Sophie Kovaleskia a Russian born woman who was well known for her differential equations made a huge contribution to mathematics (Schiebinger, 1993). Before Sophie become famous she faced many challenges, for instance women in 1870 were not allowed to peruse university education in Russia. She decided to go abroad. However, it was not allowed for women to cross Russian border unless accompanied by their parents or husbands. She had to fix a marriage of convenience in order to out of the country. Sophie did study mathematics at Heidelber and was able to complete her doctorate in Weierstrass in Berlin (Schiebinger, 1993). Even after finishing she was not given a degree at the university because women were not awarded degree instead she was given a doctorate from Gottingen university in 1874. She was awarded in 1888 by the Academie des Sciences in Paris with Bordin prize and appointed as professor of mathematics in 1889 at the University of Stockholm. Marie Curie from Poland continued her study of physics and mathematics Paris in 1870s (Walls, Milburn & Schleich, 1995). She worked as the assistant to her husband and their work on radiation won Nobel Prize in 1903.
Gleason Kate was an engineer in 1865-1933. She went to Cornell University and was admitted as a special student to study mechanical arts. Gleason started off her career at her father’s tool factory in U.S. She became the first woman to be the president of a national bank from 1917 to 1919. She becomes active in low-cost houses. She was also the first women to be elected to American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1918. Despite the fact that she did not go through a thorough training in engineering she was able to positively impact the society.
Agnes Ibbetson was a physiologist from 1757-1823. She was vegetable physiologist and has made huge contribution in microscopic structure and physiology of plants. Most of the papers written by Agnes in The Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts. Mary Putnam was a physician and had published many articles on this subject. She was able to practice medicine after undergoing training in L Ecole de medicine in Paris in the second half of 19th century.
Kablick Josephine was a botanist born in 1787. She was a strong woman that achieved in her career without the help of her husband or brothers. She dedicated her life in coming up with accurate drawings that advanced the field of botany and zoology. Sister Kenny was a nurse and made huge contribution in Polio treatment. There was a movie made in 1946 about her life. Born in Australia she moved to USA in 1940 and she was voted 1952 as the most admirable woman in US. Kies Mary was an African-American received US patent in her name in 1809. She patented the technique of weaving straw with silk. She was honored by Dolly Madison for her work. The technique was important in designing materials that were used by women in working out in the field.
Klumpke Dorothea was a natural Philosopher from 1861 to 1942. She was a well known astronomer and Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific was written about her life. She earned her Docteures sciences from University of Paris which was the highest achievement women had achieved. Her husband Dr. Isaac Roberts was also an astronomer and she worked as his assistant. She made great contributions that were recognized through awards. She was awarded by the president of France through the Cross of the Legion award. She also received the Chevalier de La Legion d’ Honneur in 1934.
Factors that hindered women participation in science
The biological differences between male and female has been a subject of discussion by psychologists, physiologists and many educationalists. There have been many measures of intellect among men and female (Sonnert & Holton, 1996). Measurable traits such as arm length, muscle size and the size of the head have been associated with intelligence. The great woman mathematician Kovaleskia’s brain was weighed and height measured just to determine the level of her intelligence. The brain of many great scientists such as Helmhotz and Einstein have also been measured and weighed. This theory that weight of the brain was an indicator of intelligence was dropped after it was discovered men and women had same brain weight. Biological differences do not explain why men have dominated science field compared to women (Ede & Cormack, 2012).
The role of women is society has also been associated with their less participation in sciences. It is perceived that women who pursue sciences neglect other duties and their families (Degler, 1980). They even abandon the dream of having children and a family. However, the first woman university professor as mentioned earlier is said to have had twelve children. She was in the field of physics and managed to balance between her profession and being a mother (Degler, 1980).
Women contribution that were not awarded
There has been many contribution of women scientist but their work has not been rewarded especially when we focus on Nobel Prize (Andersen & Diana, 1999). We start with the 1957 Nobel Prize in physics which was won by Lee and Yang. However, physicist C. S, Wu of the University of Columbia performed vital experiments which provide the theory that Lee and Yang his colleagues were working on. Only Lee and Yang were recognized in the process. James Sunner shared the 1946 Nobel Prize with other two men, but biochemist Viola Graham who played an important role in the Cornell synthesize urease was not enjoined in the award (Andersen & Diana, 1999). The 1958 Nobel Prize was given to Joshua and other two men despite the fact that his wife a geneticist Ester Lederberg was very crucial in the microbial research. Despite working all her life on a project with her husband, Crystallographer Isabellar Karle was not recognized in the 1985 Nobel Prize award. Instead, her husband shared the chemistry prize with other two men.
It is important to know what was the level of contribution of women in science and what was the environment they were in during the 18th and 19th centuries. From the analysis of the events in science field in 18th and 19th centuries, women gave huge contribution to science. However, most of their participation was at a lower level of assistants rather than leading researchers in a given field. Those women who succeeded during this period had a direct connection with male scientists (Andersen & Diana, 1999). Hypatia for instance followed her father who was a great mathematician while Yvonne Choquest-Bruhat a mathematician and physicist also had the support of her father who was a member of a science academy. Maria Winkelmann was an astronomer in Germany, and her husband was also an astronomer. She is visible in the quest to her admitted in the science academy in Berlin following the death of her husband. However, there was a 14 percent women astronomer at that time. They did not petition to be registered in the science academy. The 19th century also gave as a clear example that the work of women has not been recognized. Men working with women on a project will take all the fame and victory while women are not recognized. The environment was not conducive for women to fully participate in science. There were institutions that did not admit women in sciences in 18th centuries. Russia for instance, did not allow women to continue with science courses at the university level in 1870s. They also did not allow women to travel abroad for further studies unless certain conditions are met. This made it difficult for women to flourish in science.
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