Can you name a female scientist from history? Chances are you are shouting out Marie Curie. The twice Nobel Prize-winning Curie and mathematician Ada Lovelace are two of the few women within Western science to accept abiding accepted recognition.

One reason women tend to be absent from narratives of science is because it’s not as easy to find female scientists on the public record.

Even today, the numbers of women entering science remain below those of men, abnormally in assertive disciplines. A-level abstracts show only 12 percent of candidates in accretion and 22 percent in physics in 2018 were girls.

Another reason is that women do not fit the common image of a scientist. The idea of the lone male genius researcher is appreciably persistent. But attractive to history can both claiming this assuming and offer some account as to why science still has such a adult bias.

For a start, the adequate view of science as a body of ability rather than an action ignores women’s contributions as collaborators, absorption instead on the facts produced by big discoveries (and the men who made them famous).


The 19th-century astronomer, Caroline Herschel, languishes in the shadow of her brother William. Physicist Lise Meitner missed out on the 1944 Nobel Prize for the analysis of nuclear fission, which went to her junior collaborator, Otto Hahn, instead. Even Curie was attacked in the press for allegedly taking credit for her husband’s Pierre work.

The historian Margaret Rossiter has dubbed this analytical bias adjoin women the “Matthew Matilda Effect”. Before the 20th century, women’s social position meant the only way they could about accommodate access to science was to coact with male family associates or accompany and then mostly only if they were rich.

This left them prey to the adequate hierarchical acceptance of woman as adherent and helper to man.


An obituary in Nature in December 1923 of the physicist and electrical architect Hertha Ayrton, who won the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal for aboriginal analysis in 1906, illustrates this.

The obituary criticized Ayrton for apathy her husband, advertence that instead of apperception on her science she should have “put him into carpet slippers” and “fed him well” so he could do better science. The tone of this obituary set the stage for her legacy to be forgotten.

These abiding attitudes about a woman’s “proper” role works to abstruse accurate contribution. They also lead us to ignore women alive as collaborators in areas historically more welcoming, such as science writing, adaptation and illustration.

As well as apathy female scientists, we forget too that science has only been a profession since the late 19th century. Then it moved to new institutional settings, abrogation women behind in the home where their science became airy to history.

For example, few bethink antecedents such as Henderina Scott, who in 1903 was one of the first to use time-lapse photography to record the movement of plants.

Women’s exclusion from able spaces at this time is one reason why women became more active in accurate disciplines that still relied heavily on fieldwork, such as astrochemistry and botany.

This is where science began agreeable into a bureaucracy of male-dominated “hard” sciences, such as physics, and “soft” sciences, such as botany and biological science, that were seen as more adequate for women.

Shut out

Women were about banned acceptance to elite accurate institutions, so we do not find their names on acquaintance lists. The first women were adopted as advisers of the Royal Society in 1945, and the French Academy of Science didn’t admit its first female fellow until 1979.

When the Royal Geographical Society debated the achievability of female advisers in 1892 and 1893, an angry altercation amid board associates was conducted via the belletrist page of The Times and it only assuredly accepted women in 1913.

Yet, accurate women worked though the cracks. Amid 1880 and 1914, some 60 women contributed papers to Royal Society publications. And some women connected to work as scientists after pay or titles.

Dorothea Bate was a acclaimed archaeologian who was associated with the Natural History Museum from 1898 yet wasn’t paid or made a member of staff until 1948 when she was in her late sixties.

Why this common ambiguity to female scientists? In the late 19th century, science taught that there were innate bookish differences amid the sexes which bound women’s adequacy for science. (Another reason why accurate societies did not want their authority blah by female fellows.) Charles Darwin argued that evolutionary antagonism led to the higher development of male brains.

Scholars such as Carolyn Merchant and Londa Schiebinger have approved that the birth of modern science in the late 17th aeon embodied a adult ethos adverse to women’s participation.

Femininity became associated with the acquiescent object of accurate investigation, in direct action to the active male investigator.

Science and nature were consistently embodied as women up until the early 20th century, with the male researcher characterized as biting their secrets. This cultural compassionate of science – which has annihilation to do with the numbers of each sex practicing – presented a claiming to women that’s still apparent today.

Although we must be accurate not to aggrandize how women were historically active in science, it is important to bethink those women scientists who did accord and the barriers they overcame to participate.

This is one strand in arrest the continuing astriction amid delicacy and science, accouterment female role models, and accretion women’s accord across all accurate disciplines.