In Search of Historic Role Models
This was originally going to be a brief review of a woman scientist's life to use as one of hopefully a lot of future mini-biographies of women in science to help (hopefully) inspire some of our younger listeners beyond the messages in the documentary. That was the goal, anyway. Sometimes, you start off going to the mall, and end up at the park.
I currently am tutoring 2 students, so I knew I'd have some time while they were working, and I wouldn't have WiFi, so I brought a book with me as a resource: "Scientists & Inventors: The People Who Made Technology from Earliest Times to Modern Day," a Facts on File publication from 1979. You'd think a book geared towards the educational community written super-late in the womens' movement would have some good stuff I could work with. You'd think so, and you'd be wrong.
Before launching into a diatribe, let me describe the experience for you. So, I sit down with the book. My student (who's not always the most cooperative) has yet to come downstairs for tutoring. So, I'm sitting at his dining room table with this big book and a notepad. I open up the book to the very first page of text and pictures (this si a very well illustrated book.) Empedocles, inventor of the theory of four elements (earth, wind, water, fire). OK, he's important. I may not have heard of him, but those four elements are important. Next we find Hippocrates, a very early physician, this guy's rather famous, OK, I understand his entry. Aristotle, Archimedes. OK, these were important Greek thinkers. Now I know there's at least one female Greek scientist, but maybe she didn't invent a whole lot. Next page.
We leap 1600 years, from 200BC to over 1400AD. We find some of our famous and imoprtant scientist-inventor types from the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution eras. Gutenberg, da Vinci, Copernicus. . . more pages. More men. Huygens, Boyle, Luuevenhoek (I love his name) and Newton. So far it would be hard to delete any of our entries, but we have yet to see any meniton of the fairer sex. Tycho Brahe doesn't have his own entry, and there is zero mention of his sister, Sophie (who only helped him with his astronomical observations and his writings.) Here I am working on improving my expertise in this specific area, and my resource is letting me down. Well, let's move on and see if it gets any better.
The Industrial Revolution is upon me now, as I flip through the pages. Oh look! Women! Hmm... women working at looms. Unnamed women, at that. Well, onward we fly through the book looking for a quite elusive role model. William Priestly flies beneath my fingers from right to left and now James Watt, Edward Jenner, and Jacqurd with his punch-card looms. McAdam, who invented macadamized roads. Eli Whitney flies by. Now Ampere and Ohm make their brief appearance, then Daquerre, the inventor of Daguerrotype. Michael Farady, and Charles Babbage. Babbage! There has just GOT to be something here about Ada Lovelace, who helped him program his rather balky machine. You'd think so. I did. I was wrong. Nary a syllable about one of the very first programmers in history.
And on the exercise goes, until I am quite convinced that women didn't invent a darn thing, and we didn't need to know their names. Leftward the pages slip away until... page 252.. There she is... Marie Curie. Even if they tried, ignoring Marie Curie is darned near impossible. Now that the ice is broken, let's see who else shows up in our book..
A few pages later Curie's daughter Irene shows up. And she's sharing an entry with her husband,. Well, now that we're in the mid-1900s, you'd think there would be a few more women scientists. Again, you'd wrong After 311 pages of flipping and searching we find women get exactly 1.5 entries. One and a half! Well, I was flipping. Maybe I missed something. Let's go at this another way. I went to the index and began reading from "A." No women. Ditto: B. Oh look. Marie Curie.
Nope. Same with D, E, F, G. H and I fare no better. J brings us Irene Joliet-Curie. Marie's daughter who shares an entry with her husband.
I continue. Reading an index is actually quite boring. Not unil we get to the Ws do we find Lady Mary Worthy Montagu. Now we're getting somewhere. Let's see., Page 78. Hmmm. It's Jenner's entry - an early pioneer in immunology. So, yeah. He's important. Let's see what Lady Worth did. She is the one who noticed the Ottoman development in immunological techniques and then brought them back to England. She also believed in them so firmly, she had her own son vaccinated. Dangerously, butt successfully. So, how much of Jenner's entry to Lady Worth earn with this not insignificant contribution? Two sentences.
Let's double-check a couple that should have something. Einstein, for one. His wives were occasionally tasked with running an experiment, as well as assisting him in the writing process. Nope, neither of them rate a mention, much less name recognition. Edison's mom? Eastman's? Nope and nope.
Jeez! This book is totally mis-named. Instead of "The People Who Made..." it should be "The White Men Who..." because at least women get 1.5 entries. Blacks, Asians, they don't rate a mention at all. If young ladies of the late 20th/early 21st centuries are looking to "Scientists & Inventors" for inspiration, they're already in trouble. If not for Marie Curie, it is likely that this book would have ended without any women being mentioned at all.
What began as a simple search for content for this blog, ended up being a perfect example of what the radio documentary is all about. And I still have to work on my woman-specific entries...