Star gazing girls of Georgian England
March 20, 2013 12:06 PM   Subscribe

An intriguing essay on how young women in Georgian England were able to do science by hiding in the pursuits of the domestic arts.
"Women didn’t find it easy to participate in late eighteenth century science. Experimentation and discovery were not easily compatible with the ideals of domestic femininity – but there were women who rejected these social expectations and became active and renowned."
posted by salishsea (8 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome. What bravery and resourcefulness these women displayed! It is still often hard being a woman in the sciences, but the challenges faced by the women in this article were simply immense -- yet they managed to gain real expertise and do real scoentific work, and some of their names are remembered to this day as shining lights in the histories of their fields. Many of these women are remembered today not "merely" as important women in science, but as important scientists, full stop.

It hurts my heart to think of how much we must have lost, in the works of woman scientists whose discoveries were never published, and how many decades of scientific progress we must have set our knowledge back by, in systematically repressing half of society's best minds and excluding them from mainstream scientific discourse. How many Einsteins, Newtons, Keplers, Galileos, Galens, Darwins, and Aristotles have we denied ourselves by denying women their rightful places in the quest for human knowledge?
posted by Scientist at 12:44 PM on March 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

This reminds me of an anecdote from some fellow who was at a university to study math, which was a field populated only with men. In the cafeteria, he overheard women talking about what sounded like a mathematical discussion, but was actually about knitting. Looking for some background on that story, I found an article from last August, on "reinventing knitting," with knitting being used to teach, understand and study topology and other concepts.

Also related: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (1900-1979), a daughter of these stargazers, who loved science and especially astronomy, who sought out grants that would allow her to leave England and go to the US if she was to get any chance of progression in her studies, let alone receive recognition for her work.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Age of Wonder is about Romantic era science in general, but it has a pretty large section on Caroline Herschel and her brother. I really recommend it.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 1:27 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just came in there to recommend The Age of Wonder as well.
posted by yerfatma at 2:10 PM on March 20, 2013

I think the knitting story is about Feynman, and comes from one of the books of Feynman anecdotes. ("Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman" or "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"? He was impressed that these women could understand that the slope of a diagonal line was given by what my alegebra teacher called "rise over run." When I read it, the moral of the story was that "Women can learn these abstract ideas, if you put in in terms of their interests." A bit patronizing, in other words.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:13 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is fascinating stuff. There were so, so many women who made major contributions to science, but were restricted in their roles. They were the amateur collectors, the illustrators, the assistants, and so often their very major contributions are glossed over or (more frequently) forgotten. One of my favourites is Mary Anning, who was a collector and paleontologist.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 6:52 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

So another big field of genteel women's science endeavor was in oceanography and marine biology. Walking the beaches, collecting samples of seaweed and molluscs, going trawling on sailing boats - all within the realm of the unobjectionable, and actually there are a fair number of notes, specimen samples, even species discoveries from the 18th century that women produced. More in this book: Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Great link. Thanks, salishsea.
posted by homunculus at 12:43 AM on March 21, 2013

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