This is one of the first scientific books that I've enjoyed reading. It is factual and informative, with a story line that's compelling and interesting. Margaret Alic through her extensive researches has now put together a history of women in science. Reading it has made me more aware of women's roles in shaping, instigating and inventing a great deal of the science in the world today. It is a very factual book, where the facts speak volumes. Even from the potted history standpoint it is informative and it filled many gaps in my own general knowledge. It is well worth reading.
If you women want to get a greater sense of who you are, then this book is a great way to revisit the female heritage and discover a sense of pride about our gender and their achievments. The only reason we have difficulty in finding good women role models is not because they weren't there, but because they haven't been celebrated, recognised or written about. As Margaret points out, in fact historians and the church often deliberately rewrote history to obliterate the trace and contribution of woman and dismissed or reduced the female importance to being that of fertility only. Also as women often had to publish their work under a man's name to be taken seriously, it can be deduced that there is a hidden history of women making contributions to science, that we will never unfortunately know about.
When most of us are asked to name a scientist, Newton and Darwin often spring to mind, as these were mostly the names we were and still are, taught in schools. Women's contintributions generally and in science particularly, remain virtually unknown and untaught, but thanks to this book some of that history is being resurrected to reflect a much more accurate picture.
Children develop a sense of who they are from many sources, including history. therefore it is important that women's history is included and valued, so that young girls can grow up to be proud of their gender heritage and of the women who have gone before and so that boys will see that each gender is of equal value.
I had no idea that it was mainly women across the world who developed the science of medicine and healing and that the first Medical School where people studied from around the world was run by women, this has been conveniently forgotten. It is really only a few years since women have once again come to be accepted in what had become an almost solely male province.
The book shows that the history of science and the way that it is viewed is mostly due to Aristotle's influece. He believed and promulgated the view that women were inferior and that they were deformed men! It has taken 2000 years to chip away at that misconception. There have however been male champions such as Plato and Socrates who spoke out in favour of the education of women. Plato's own mother was a mathematician and philosopher.
It appears that historians were often more concerned with the chastity or morality of women, than with any intellectual achievements. Many women often had to stay outside the confines of marriage in order to educate themselves and pursue scientific interests.
The book is full of names of women scientists of all aspects including some unexpected ones like Cleopatra. It seems clear that women's history has been written against the carnal female life; how pretty she was, how she dressed, with whom did she have affairs and the intelligence and self-constructed higher life has been virtually ignored.
It seems that I have grossly underestimated what women in history have achieved, and we can be proud of the fact of our gender and join their ranks by not underestimating ourselves or indeed most other women. Truly what women have managed to achieve against all the odds and against immense opposition and ridicule is extraordinary. The book highlights Lady Mary Montagu, who in the eighteenth century against much opposition spread the practice of innoculating against smallpox, a disease that killed about 60 million people prior to this.
There is a saying that, 'behind every great man there is a woman,' and from this book I have realised it could be changed to, 'that alongside many great men are also great women.' For proof of this you only have to read about Louis Pasteur's wife.
It is also true that women themselves have underestimated their abilities and denied their accomplishments, inclduing Caroline Herschel the most famous woman astonomer who didn't collect her presitgious gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society.
It seems that many female scientists including Ada Lovelace, the mathematician and co-founder of Computer Science along with Babbage, was excluded from using the Royal Societies libraries and banned from lectures on the basis of her gender and this was not an unusual occurrence. If these were isolated incidences, then mistakes here and there would be easy to forgive; but it seems from history that there are far greater forces at play that configured in the suppression of women.
You have to admire the sheer ingenuity of what women were prepared to do in order to study science. From arranged marriages in order to get permission to go abroad and study, from dressing up as men, publishing under male names, sacrificing a life of ease for one of hardship in order to purse their burning passions. Can we do any less ourselves in pursuing our life's purpose, whatever that may be?
As Margaret Alice wrote herself, "Women can change the world and one step towards such change is to rediscover the history of women in science." I sincerely hope that teachers and parents read this book and tell their children about the wonderful, but not as yet well-known history of women in science.