Women Scientists

Jaipur Woman Blog - woman scientistWomen have long been important contributors to our knowledge of science, even though they have not always been recognized for their contributions. This guide looks at the history of women in science, and highlights the work of some female scientists today.

In ancient Greece, Aristotle didn't think that women were suited to do science. Plato disagreed but Aristotle's views won out. Still, women have always been working in various scientific fields in different capacities, especially as healers and midwives.

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673) argued that women were simply poorly educated and published several scientific works herself. By the 19th century, at least in Europe, “two spheres” were perceived -  women functioned in the domestic sphere, men in the public. Botany and astronomy were considered okay for women because they could be done at home. At the Harvard College Observatory, women were hired to classify photographic platesScientific illustration was another accepted way for women to participate in science.

Sometimes women used pseudonyms or worked with their husbands, often doing much of the work but not getting credit. The Curies, Marie and Pierre, were exceptions. He died much earlier than she did and she ended up winning two Nobel Prizes, for physics with Pierre and later on her own for chemistry

By the latter half 19th century a number of women’s colleges had been founded in the U.S. Early in the 20th century home economics became a discipline in itself and women infiltrated co-ed colleges that way, although Home Ec was never considered a "real" subject. Beginning in the 1960s many colleges and universities finally became co-ed, and today women make up more than half of all college students. We have come a long way - but there is still a ways to go!

There are of course many well-known women scientists, and this guide can only cover a few. And this guide from the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard discusses many outstanding women in science.

Just the Facts ...

Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

  • Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce.
  • Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences (62%) and biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences (48%) and relatively low shares in engineering (15%) and computer and mathematical sciences (25%).
  • The increase in female participation in science and engineering over the past two decades includes increasing participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups, especially Hispanic and Asian women.
  • The NSF reports that women comprise only 21 percent of full professors in science fields and 5 percent of full professors in engineering, despite earning about half the doctorates in science and engineering in the nation.
  • In biology, more women than men are earning doctorates—yet women comprised 36 percent of assistant professors and only 27 percent of tenure candidates according to a 2010 study by the US National Research Council.
  • Men earn more in all fields of science – sometimes quite a bit more (http://motto.time.com/4201637/pay-gap-calculator/) - and often the gap widens with age.
  • Mitchneck, B., Smith, J. L., & Latimer, M. (2016). Diversity in science: A recipe for change: Creating a more inclusive academy. Science (New York, N.Y.), 352(6282), 148. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27124441.
  • Women don't get credit when they work with men
  • Kids are finally starting to picture scientists as women


A number of people have contributed ideas, objects and work to the creation of the exhibit and this web guide. In alphabetical order, they include:

  • Anita Autry (Dulac Lab)
  • Katie Ericksen Baca (Continuing Ed)
  • Adam Baldinger (MCZ)
  • Nicole Bedford (Hoekstra Lab)
  • Daina Boquin (CFA)
  • Diana Carey (Schlesinger Library)
  • Jessica Cundiff (MCZ)
  • Michelle Driscoll (FAS Instructional Media)
  • Jennifer Fauxsmith (Schlesinger Library)
  • Dana Fisher (EML – MCZ)
  • Larry Flynn (HEB)
  • Susan Gilman (Tozzer Library)
  • Dominic Hall (CHoM)
  • Karsten Hartel (MCZ)
  • Rachel Hawkins (MCZ)
  • Joan Ilacqua (CHoM - AWM)
  • Kaia Mattioli (HGWISE)
  • Brittany Mayweather (Recent HU Ph.D.)
  • Mark Omura (MCZ)
  • Murat Recevik (MCZ)
  • Nina Sinatra (SEAS)
  • Lindsay Smith (CfA)
  • Monica Shishir Thanawala (Zhuang Lab)
  • Jenna Tonn (History of Science)
  • Jeremiah Trimble (MCZ)
  • Dyann Wirth (HMS)
  • Robert Young (EML-MCZ)
  • Diana Zlatanovski (Peabody Museum)

The display cases in the Northwest Building lobby were built by the HMSC Exhibits Department, and the graphics were done by MCB Graphics.