Women in Science

Science has for centuries, been a male dominant academic area. In fact, most academic areas have been male dominant. Women have had a very small amount of impact in the various fields of science in the past, due to sexist beliefs. There have been so many restrictions to women and their right to do things. Voting, equal pay, fighting for their country and even having access to a proper education is still unavailable to many females of the world. As a female, I’m lucky to be able to study, read, write, and go to school in an era where it isn’t considered scandalous and unnatural. I can now take science classes with my male peers and have the right to do the same experiments and work as them without having to fight for my right to do so. Throughout history though, women haven’t been as lucky as me to have the access to a good education, an education the government is always trying to make better for us to progress in life. Women in the past haven’t known how to write without having someone show and voice their disgust, let alone help advance our knowledge of the world. However, there have been a collection of inspirational women in history who have rebelled against what has been expected of them. Here are some ladies who have caused significant progression in science, and what we have to thank them for.

Wang Zhenyi

It’s made to believe/Women are the same as men;/Are you not convinced/Daughters can also be heroic?

Wang Zhenyi’s Poetry

Wang was a girl born in the Qing dynasty, where if you had the money, you could study. Women of course, were believed to not or shouldn’t have been ambitious enough to chase after a career. What did the women do then? They were expected to cook, sew, and live a plain and bland life where studies were off in the distance, educations and careers were to be pursued by men. The good thing, however, about the Zhenyi family, was that they cared about their daughter Wang and her education, believing she too should study and work hard. She was able to travel across the world with the funding from her family, where she wrote poetry about poverty and injustice, studied mathematics and met other scholars to educate herself.

With the support her family gave toward her education, Wang excelled in astronomy and mathematics. Wang studied a very little understood occurrence, eclipses, making models to help prove theories she had about them. She used mirrors, lamps, and ropes to prove that eclipses occurred when  the moon came directly in front of the sun, blocking Earth’s view of it. Wang also updated the information that was known about the planets, stars, and their movements in space. She used her telescope to make measurements of the stars’ alignment in the sky.

As an equally accomplished mathematician, she pushed to prove theories of difficult algebra equations, and later went to publish five volumes titled “Simple Principles of Calculation”. Despite only living to the age of 29, she had educated countless scholars, further developing the world’s understanding of space and mathematics.

Karen Horney

If you want to be proud of yourself, then do things in which you take pride

Karen Horney

Karen Horney was born in era where psychology was emerging as a new science for people to study, to further develop the understanding of the mind. In the 1900s, psychology was now a new social science. Sigmund Freud formed the basis of psychology, so most people when off of his theories, ideas, and research. He studied men’s minds mainly, and stated women were jealous of men and wished they were the same as men.

Karen Horney however, tossed that idea out of the window. She was fighting her own battles of depression after studying medicine at many schools, earning her medical degree at the University of Berlin. This is what sparked her interest in psychology, and so she began seeing patients and analysing their behaviours, listening to their thoughts, and started forming her own basis of psychology. Karen rebelled against all that was taught to her, by Sigmund Freud’s basis of psychology, as his theories didn’t fit what she was receiving from her studies at all. Karen went on to say in regard to Freud’s theories that women didn’t envy men themselves, but rather the powers and privileges that came with being a man.

In 1932, after moving to New York, she started looking at anxiety and the research done prior to her own. She said that anxiety wasn’t a biological occurrence that was about genes, but rather the environment you’re in. A Neo-Freudan therapy came along, that was designed to help people through therapy to a point where they no longer needed it, but this contradiction of Freud’s theories forced Karen out of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Despite this, Karen Horney continued writing papers and contributing to this emerging field of science.

Mary Agnes Chase

Grass made it possible for the human race to abandon cave life and follow herds

Mary Agnes Chase

Mary Agnes Chase was born in Chicago in 1869, a kind yet fierce woman, with a keen interest in botany. After completing grammar school, Mary dedicated herself to supporting her family by working hard. However, when she wasn’t working hard for small money, she was sketching plants and eventually saved up enough to take a few botany classes at the University of Chicago and Lewis Institute. With her remarkable collection of sketches, she began working at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History part-time.

She became a scientific illustrator there for a handful of the museum’s publications. With the help of a microscope, she could perfect more difficult and technical sketches. Later, she went on to become a full-time illustrator for the United States’ Department of Agriculture in the early 1900’s. After the death of a colleague and fellow botanist in 1935, Mary became the senior botanist for systematic agrostology. Because she no longer had her partner in plants, Mary as a woman had to fund travels for herself to further study grasses across North America and South America, because she wasn’t going to settle for just a lab. Yes, because she wasn’t studying in the shadow of her male counterpart, she had to use the pay she had to do more work.

Mary was able to identify hundreds of species of grass, and even pointed out which ones where the best to feed livestock. The poultry we get today is because of Mary’s understanding of grass. As well as being a skilled botanist, Mary also actively supported and protested for women’s rights, even though it could have cost her a job she loved. She participated in the 1918 hunger strike, which resulted in her being arrested and force-fed. These sacrifices, however, gave women the right to vote in 1920. Mary Agnes Chase has helped shaped the world we have today.

Alice Ball

Men dominated higher education in 1915, and Alice Ball was admitted against the odds

Miles Jackson

Alice Ball was an African American woman born in Seattle in 1892. Her grandfather’s time in dark rooms because of his photography lead to a spark in Alice’s interest in chemistry. Her education started at the University of Washington, then went to Hawaii to finish it and earn her master’s. Alice Ball graduated as the first African American student to graduate from the University of Hawaii.

In the 1900’s, leprosy was giving people deformities, damage to nerves and eyes and also has symptoms of numbness. Everyone diagnosed with leprosy was arrested and sent away to live in a colony of affected people in isolation on a Hawaiian island. Chaulmoogra oil seemed the only cure for the disease, however, there seemed no way of injecting the oil to mix within the bloodstream, nor swallowing it which caused major stomach pains. But Alice was able to discover the Ball method, a way of effectively injecting the oil. She managed to isolate the ethyl esters within the oil’s acids, which was able be blended with water to inject into the blood stream.

Then, those with leprosy were able to see their families and no one needed to ever go into isolation again if they were affected by the disease. Unfortunately, Alice’s life didn’t meet a terribly happy ending, as she inhaled chlorine gas while in a lab.

Jane Cooke Wright

Not only was [Jane Wright’s] work scientific, but it was a visionary for the whole science of oncology

Sandra Swain

Jane Cooke Wright came from a family of influential people in the medical field. Her grandfather was the first African American person to graduate from Yale’s medical school. Her father founded a cancer research foundation, and together, Jane and her father were able to shape the way we view cancer. Doctors were emerging with numerous treatments for cancer, in attempt to attack the cancer cells. Jane was a medical school graduate in 1945 and went on to join her father in cancer research at the Harlem Hospital. At the age of 33, she became the head of cancer research following her father’s death.

Jane wasn’t able to develop a cure for cancer but was able to extend a patient’s life and save precious time. Her methods of approaching chemotherapy were not to use the drugs directly on a diagnosed patient, but to test it on small parts of the cancer tissue. This approach helped develop a more effective way of administering the drugs. Jane also understood how different types of cancers and different people need different amounts of the chemo drugs and that it may affect them in different ways.

As well as developing more effective ways of approaching cancer, she did the same in the ways of approaching tumor removal. Instead of the old method, simply surgically removing the tumor which could potentially damage other organs, Jane used chemo to help attack tumors in a less invasive way. Jane helped pave the way for African American people to get into the medical field, as she became a leader in oncology.

The list doesn’t end at five. There have been many more women who have fought gender stereotypes and defied the expectations the other gender had of them in the past. Women have had it tough trying to learn and educate themselves on the world, but through these nasty comments, disadvantages, pseudonyms and shed experiments, they’ve succeeded in doing so. But if women have had a difficult time in the past and have formed the basis of the world we know today, imagine what students like you and I can achieve with access to such excellent science labs, books and supportive teachers. We have resources that these women could only have dreamed of when their interest in STEM sparked. So let’s be grateful for the age we live in and the school we attend. We don’t have the answers for everything; 95% of our oceans are undiscovered, we haven’t yet developed a way of living on Mars and we don’t know how to reverse the damage pollution has caused. So be ambitious, work hard and maybe one day you’ll end up on a list just like this one, where students can aspire to achieve great things as you did.

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