Today is OUR Day… Let’s Celebrate!

We were planning on covering the office harassment topic, but with so much negativity in the news and around the world, we thought: Wouldn’t it be better to honor National Women’s History Month and today’s International Women’s Day by covering “our” historical figures who laid a solid foundation for us? So yes, with global activism for women’s equality fueled by movements like Press for Progress and the energy of the Nevertheless She Persisted rallying, we wanted to recognize the pioneering women who shaped our history and contributed to science through their tireless commitment to pursue their dreams. 

Did you know that a woman invented the aquarium? Yes, her name was Jeanne Villepreux-Power (1794-1871). Did you know that Nettie Stevens (1861-1912) discovered how sex was determined, by the size difference of a single pair of chromosomes? 

Just in time for our womanhood celebration we stumbled across an illustrated adult coloring book that gave us this insight. Featuring 31 women in science who broke boundaries and achieved their dreams, The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries, written by Elizabeth Lorayne, shares powerful portraits of women Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as less-known figures who made an impact.

The author tells PINK about the heroines whose courage and discoveries opened the door to a larger universe. 

What inspired you to write? As the mother of a young girl in today’s society, I felt driven to offer an alternative narrative to the one I learned in school. For example, I don’t think young women should only be taught that eighteenth and nineteenth-century women were deemed “hysterical” and therefore incapable of being treated as equal to men. Instead, I wanted to create a playful, educational way to highlight and celebrate the women scientists who persevered despite the gender discrimination they faced. My hope is that, through reading and coloring the portraits of these fiercely persistent, capable women will feel inspired to work harder toward reaching their own dreams.

Why is it vital for us to navigate and study women in science and history? Learning about women scientists who broke with tradition to pursue their dreams and make discoveries is inspiring! I believe it is particularly important to demonstrate there always have been women and girls throughout the centuries who were curious about the natural world and wanted to contribute to society through science. Just because you are a girl does not mean you are incapable of becoming a scientist or engineer or mathematician. However, it could mean, you have to work even harder. As you know, even though we’re making strides, women still face discrimination in the workplace, including in STEM careers. So, I really want to encourage all women to pursue their interest in STEM. 

Plus, when we see other women in history and our culture conducting research and making a difference, we believe it’s possible – and maybe, just maybe, our daughter’s generation will be the one to finally end gender discrimination. 

Which are your favorite American scientists and what barriers did they overcome?  American scientists Alice Ball and Nettie Stevens shared one thing in common – credit for their hard work and discoveries was taken by men. Fortunately, one of Alice Ball’s male colleagues called foul and made sure proper credit was given to her. Alice was not only the first African American woman, but also the first American woman ever to receive a master’s degree in chemistry. She isolated the active chemical compound in chaulmoogra oil so that it could be given to leprosy patients through injection, and her method was used until the 1940s. Only recentlyin 2000, her work was commemorated with a bronze plaque placed at the very chaulmoogra tree she used to extract the oil from in Hawaii. 

Nettie Stevens still has not been properly credited for her discovery despite proof that her work was done independently from her male colleague, biologist Edmund Beecher Wilson. Instead, Edmund is known for the discovery that sex is determined by the size difference of a single pair of chromosomes. Nettie had shared her breakthrough in a 1905 paper, but Edmund’s name continues to be attached to the discovery rather than Nettie’s. It’s truly a shame!

Other barriers include not being paid for intellectual contributions, not being officially awarded a doctoral title and degree, or not being allowed to attend college without approval by the male board of directors or professors. The challenges have shifted and morphed over the years, but we still face this. I hope that with every new book, movie, class, or conversation that enlightens the general public of the past and present struggles women face in science and other fields, such barriers will soon be left to the pages of history.

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