Women in the background

Every time someone digs a little deeper in any collection or big works of the past, we seem to find that women have historically actually worked and participated more than we are made to believe.

Many great works in literature and in science seem to have had a lot of input from female assistants, the wives of the authors, even daughters. Yet they got little or not recognition. In some cases, it even seemed the woman did most of the work. The more we explore the past, the more we find that women did essential work and were vital to progress. I have seen a few of these examples trending on Twitter in the last several months, but could not longer find them. I manage to “recover”” two articles from The Guardian discussing the topic:

During the last couple of months, the topic gained new traction when the Science History Institute published this tweet (and since I am a scientist, this got my attention):

Original tweet by the Science History Institute

The “Women in Science collection” from the Institute shows that women were historically present in scientific projects. However, their names were often omitted. The photo´s official label says: “Dr. Michael Somogyi and female laboratory assistants at the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis”. (I bet the lab assistants did most of the work). The story was very nicely covered and explained in this piece by Karen Kwon on Massive Science:

“It’s not that women weren’t there. It’s that they were hidden.”

This story also reminds me that people (and this includes scientists) are often unable to name famous female scientists aside from Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin. There are so many other great examples out there.

So I want to highlight here the work of some sources that have been showcasing women scientists. First, Massive Science. Not only because I am doing their writing training course, but also because they publish very elaborate, well fact-checked pieces almost daily.

They have LOTS of pieces of women in science and I picked two from the Biology area (you guessed it, because I am a biologist):

  • Betty Hay, a scientist who extensively contributed to cell and developmental biology.
Screenshot from the Massive Science website.
  • Rebecca Lancefield, a revolutionary microbiologist that studied Streptococci, extensively progressing our understanding of diseases caused by bacteria. Read the piece for historic drama such as: “Lancefield had hoped to work with bacteriologist H. Zinsser at Columbia, but he wouldn’t let her work in the lab because she was a woman.”
Screenshot from the Massive Science website.

Now let’s add another variable in addition to gender: minorities. Or more precisely, not based in the USA or Europe. Our Science knowledge production is often done in “developed countries”, but other countries also contribute. We are just not used to hearing about other countries. Last time I was taken by surprise was when I saw a post by Sci-Illustrate on LinkedIn. The authors (who are all female) post their stories about female scientists here on Medium and often highlight female scientists from India. I had never heard of any names from India and it is fascinating to find out that there is this whole different world out there.

Here are some of the scientists they covered (as a bonus, the publications by Sci-Illustrate — as the name suggests — include several incredible illustrations):

  • Gagandeep Kang, a “clinician scientist & virologist from India who saved lives of countless children through her work on infectious disease epidemiology, treatment & cure.”
  • Kamala Sohonie, “the Indian scientist who refused to let her gender hold her back, delving into researching vitamins and nutritional values of foods consumed by the poorest Indian diets.”
  • Sudipta Sengupta, “a structural geologist who was one of the first Indian woman to do research in Antarctica and helped establish India’s permanent research station.”

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I hope this piece and the ones mentioned help you realize that when we are more inclusive, we get input from different points of view, leading to incredible discoveries that would otherwise take much longer or not happen at all. We would not be where we are today without the women in the background.

Fernanda Fadel — Science writer

Written by

Biologist focused on animal behavior, zoology, genetics and medical topics. https://linktr.ee/ferrufa

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Fernanda Fadel — Science writer

Written by

Biologist focused on animal behavior, zoology, genetics and medical topics. https://linktr.ee/ferrufa

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +725K followers.

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