Women in science

Notice the incredible lack of XX karyotypes in the above header image? Me too. I want to find a nice historical shot of people doing science en masse, but I can’t find any with women in it before the 1990s. This is itself informative, and anyone who would like to write a piece on women in science should immediately email me or one of the other administrators, but in the meantime, does anyone have some archival shots of labs, field work or other science-related activities with a mix of sexes?

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22 Responses to Women in science

  1. Thony C. says:

    Having done separate research on women in formal logic, mathematics and astronomy I can tell you that you’re on to a hiding to nothing with your request!

  2. Dan Hicks says:

    Google Image Search turns up some nice photos of Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie at work, but they’re almost always alone. Maybe string some photos together into a composite banner?

  3. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    There are various images of women as astronomical computers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including these Greenwich ones: and the Harvard ones.

  4. I can’t find any photographs online off-hand, but I know that Karl Pearson’s biometrical laboratory employed quite a few women from the 1890s to the 1930s. Might have to go to the UCL archives to get your hands on some, though…

  5. Vanessa Heggie says:

    This is a pdf of the second volume of the official report of the 1928 Olympic Games: http://www.la84foundation.org/6oic/OfficialReports/1928/1928p2.pdf

    On p.951 there’s a photograph of the physiological research team, and although they’re not ‘in action’ (tho’ they are on the field…) I count three women, two in lab coats.

  6. Benny Goldberg says:

    Well, a female natural philosopher in the mid to late 17th century is not not quite a scientist from before the 1990s, but I thought maybe it might be relevant; I could offer a piece on Margaret Cavendish from an HPS perspective if you have any interest. Email me if you do!

  7. Rebekah Higgitt says:

    Several of the female computers at Greenwich did observe as well – like Annie Maunder. And, in any case, who is to say what is menial in science?! However, if you want some images of mixed sex astronomy (sounds dodgy!) you could have a look at the books about the British Astronomical Association’s eclipse expeditions in 1898 and 1900.

  8. rebecca_p says:

    May I ask what the heading image is? It’s an odd, thought-provoking image in its own right – the photographer gives us no focus, the eye glides from one man bent over his work to another, even the instruments seem anonymous…I’d say the overall effect isn’t of XY heroism but quiet, collaborative (if slightly artificial) productivity. If all of these men were women, would we call it ‘domestic’? Just curious.

    • Rebekah Higgitt says:

      Just what I thought about this! Where was it taken? Are these men ‘scientists’, or workshop technicians? Either way they, like human computers (male and female), are clearly an essential and too often over-looked part of the scientific enterprise.

  9. Dan Hough says:

    We have several older photographs of field expeditions of the Oklahoma Biological Survey. Some of them include mixed-sex field crews. Check out http://www.biosurvey.ou.edu/survwork.html for a start. You are free to use any with attribution of course.

    • John S. Wilkins says:

      That’s very generous, Dan. Many thanks. I aim to do a rotating banner series over the next few weeks when all that copious free time arrives.

  10. Cera says:

    We have a lot of archival shots from the Marine Biological Laboratory. There are group pictures from the Embryology Course and the Botany Course, and lots of portraits. The male to female ratio isn’t all that great, but the MBL did have a better track record than most science institutions at the time.

    Here’s a shot of the 1895 Botany Class “Collecting Specimens.”

    Here’s “1893 Scientists” — some of these pictures have scanty labeling, so this is the best we could get out of them.

    Roxana Feris was actually quite the accomplished botanist, but alas, was one of those many women who ended up relegated to adminstrative/grunt work until the mid ’70s, when they finally made her director of the herbarium she’d worked in all her life.

    I like this photo of Elizabeth Peabody. Even though I know it’s posed, it’s nice that it communicates that she couldn’t be bothered to look up from the ‘scope to have her picture taken. Just the same with Miriam Scott Lucas — why are you bothering her with this picture-taking nonsense?

    Here’s three women in the General Laboratory in the MBL. I grant you that women were quite often at the time relegated to what you’ve called “domestic work” in the lab, but consider–if you saw three men doing exactly the same thing in this picture, would you assume that they were doing menial labor? The assumption is historically safe, but at this point in the story of science, I’d like to let them be seen as scientists, since a huge part of Doing Science is menial crap work anyway.

    I did a lot of the first pass of metadata work on these images, and finding so *many* pictures of women doing science filled me with joy. I hadn’t realized until I saw them there how much I had missed seeing them in the images of historical scientists that I had been presented with. You don’t realize how much you miss your historical antecedents, the people you can identify with and imagine being, until you finally find them.

    So for good measure:
    here’s a really nice picture of E. E. Just at the MBL, before he left for Germany to find somewhere that would let him actually hold a job doing science; another of him outside at the MBL. And there are a handful of Asian scientists, though not many after 1945. But that just about does it for non-white scientists at the MBL. There’s probably no need to say that there are _no_ non-white women.

    Good luck finding something that works for you. But I think you got the most important point when you noted how few images you’d found.

    Embryo Project images, as well, are available for use with attribution.

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