Friday, June 22, 2007

1923's Great Women in Science

In my recent surfing I came across César Sánchez's microbiology article finds in the Time Magazine archives. It turns out to be a fascinating window into 20th century American culture (and a great way to procrastinate - curse you César!).

Take this May 28, 1923 article about the "twelve greatest" women chosen by the League of Women Voters. Time profiles some of the lesser known winners, who turn out to be some of the pioneering women in science: Dr. Annie Jump Cannon, curator of the Harvard College Observatory; Anna Botsford Comstock, "professor of nature study at Cornell;" and Dr. Florence Rena Sabin, "professor of histology at Johns Hopkins Medical School." All three were very prominent in their fields and well-deserved recognition.

What is interesting is that the article criticizes the League of Women Voters' list for including too few female scientists.

Women have made their marks in all branches of science, and to limit their professions to anatomy or astronomy is arbitrary. There are 404 of them among the 9,500 names in American Men of Science. The League might well have mentioned, for instance, Margaret F. Washburn (president of the American Psychological Association, 1922), Lillien J. Martin, Mary W. Calkins, Ethel Puffer Howes, Christine Ladd-Franklin or Helen B. Woolley, psychologists; Florence Bascom, geologist; Alice C. Fletcher (who died last month) or Elsie Clews Parsons, anthropologists; Cornelia Clapp, Katharine Foot or Mary J. Rathbun, zoologists; Lydia DeWitt or Louise Pearce, pathologists; Anna Johnson Pell or Charlotte Scott, mathematicians; Mary E. Pennington, chemist; Ellen Churchill Semple, geographer; S. Josephine Baker or Daisy Robinson, sanitarians, and several others. All of these women have national or international scientific reputations.

Here we are, almost 85 years later, and despite the fact that the percentage of female scientists has increased significantly there are still uninformed individuals who ask "where are the women scientists?" The answer is that the women are in their labs and in the field, working as they have for decades.
Tags: , ,