In the last few years there have been quite a few scholarly publications on the roles of women in literature, art, social reform and politics. Many heretofore unknown women finally have been credited with important contributions to society. Missing from this array have been the similarly undocumented but substantial contributions of early American women to science. It is hoped that this review will induce others to undertake further research in this field. Much remains to be learned.
The period chosen for this survey is the time from Colonial America to the onset of the Civil War. There was something of a hiatus during this war, when at least one scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science stopped meeting. After the war there was a rapid increase in women's participation in science as academic opportunities developed and some professional occupations became available to them.
The term active in science is here used in its broad sense to include any promotion of science. This can come in many forms, experimental data, textbooks, teaching, donations of money, time and collections to institutions, and memberships in scientific societies. The actual designation as scientist is not used. It is an indefinable one at best, varying with the times, and sometimes related to the bias of the writer and the professional status of the individual under consideration. As in any other activity there is a hierarchy of status which this writer does not undertake to evaluate.
Considering the handicaps under which many of these women labored, often denied entry to colleges and unable to attain professional status, one wonders why they continued to pursue this sort of work at all. It is a testimony to the interest that these women had in science that they continued to study, work and participate in science. Perhaps Ellen Tupper, an expert on the physiology and behavior of bees put it most clearly when she wrote in one of her columns on bee keeping that her reason for studying bees was that there was always something to think about, some experiment to try, something to investigate. In short, she wrote, she had an intellectual as well as a physical employment. Perhaps she speaks for all these women (Part II, Tupper, 1:101).
An incentive to do this work was provided by Mozans' 1913 book, Woman in Science (1), Hanaford's Centennial volume Daughters of America (2) and Meisel's Bibliography of American Natural History (3). The varied activities and range of interests of these early women are well described in Kohlstadt's article in Signs (4). Warner reviews the early educational opportunities for women in her paper in Isis (5) and Woody's two volume history of women's education in the United States provides a comprehensive view of the subject (6). Rossiter's book describes the academic and social milieu in which these women worked (7).
The contributions of these women before the Civil War range from writers on scientific subjects to volunteer collectors of weather data for the Smithsonian Institution to a girl's botany class which furnished a list of spring flowers for a museum. From this distance in time the contributions of these women are as difficult to measure as the women are to classify, but any contribution can favor an increase in knowledge for subsequent workers in the field.
The following material is divided into two parts. Part I is a report on the activities of women who were engaged in scientific pursuits but left no written records of any work in science. These are the women who were members of and donors to scientific societies, the collectors, the teachers, the artists. Part 2 includes biographical and bibliographical data on 21 women who had some published writings in science before the Civil War. Some of course continued publishing after that date. Their later work is included. It is important in establishing the credibility of these women's achievements to have as complete a bibliography of their publications as possible and to have an evaluation of these writings from the standpoint of a scientist. The evaluation is included in the write up.
The list of sources searched for the above information is in the appendix.