Women’s Roles in Science – Research Paper

From medieval times, women have played considerable scientific roles. Diverse historians with research interests in science along with gender focus on women’s scientific attainments and endeavors. As well, the historians concentrate on the challenges faced by women in pursuing the endeavors. The sociological, critical, as well as historical, consideration of the challenges is now an established academic discipline (Greenstadt, 2010; Whaley, 2003). There are records of women’s involvement in science stretching from the times of several early civilizations, including medieval Egypt. Merit-Ptah is the earliest recognized female physician, or scientist, globally. In about 2700 BC, she was the chief physician of medieval Egypt. Over time, women have had increasing roles in the advancement of scientific research as well as development. Even then, their scientific contributions only started getting ample recognition in the latter decades of the 20th century. Regardless of the challenges female scientists face even in contemporary times, more and more of them are venturing into science (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993). This paper explores the roles played by females in science, particularly in the 18th century and in contemporary times.

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Women’s Roles in 18th Century’s Scientific Revolution

For the most part of the 18th century, there were three general perspectives regarding women. First, women were taken as socially, as well as intellectually, subservient to men. Second, women and men were seen as different while equal. Third, women and men were viewed as potentially having equal intellectual abilities (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other Jacobin Club philosophers appeared convinced that all women’s functions were restricted to serving men and motherhood. Even then, the Enlightenment era saw the scientific roles of women expand significantly. Notably, Rousseau’s political persuasions and philosophy led to the general evolution of the contemporary educational, sociological, as well as political, thought (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993).

The development of the European salon culture saw the rise of platforms where women met men to debate, as well as discuss, contemporary scientific along with socio-political subjects. They met in inspiring salon settings to enhance their collective scientific proficiency via conversations. Notably, Italians invented the settings in mid-16th century. In the 18th century, the culture flourished across France. Women developed salon etiquette rules to guide the conversations (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993). Such rules took after the earlier Italian chivalry codes. Rousseau criticized the salons, especially the ones dominated by women, as generating men who were evidently effeminate. He asserted that such men stifled objective scientific discourse. Even then, more and more men continued to frequent the salons. The salons enabled women to have increasing influence on philosophy, mathematics, botany as well as physics (Whaley, 2003).

In mid-18th century, the growing role of female scientists was recognized by the then leading scientific academies, including the RSAS (Royal Swedish Academy of Science). The RSAS inducted the first female scientist, Eva Ekeblad, in early 1748 (Whaley, 2003). Notably, the RSAS had in the preceding seven years published the first female historian, Charlotta Frölich (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993). In its entire history, the RSAS has remained a non-governmental and autonomous scientific organization. It promotes mathematics and natural sciences. It focuses on knowledge that is practically helpful (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003).

Sibylla Maria Merian founded contemporary zoology along with botany. She explored nature keenly, recording her observations in a diary-like study book. Natural philosophy stemmed from her recorded observations and investigations. In her publications, Merian catalogued insect and plant lives using imagery (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993). Following the demise of her husband, she moved to Paramaribo where she studied the amphibians, birds, reptiles, and insects inhabiting the area.

Given that the majority of scientific studies and experiments happened at home, many women, including Pierrette Marie-Anne Paulze, assisted their spouses and other family members perform them. Paulze assisted her husband, Antoine Lavoisier, in his domestic laboratory. Lavoisier is credited with oxygen’s discovery. Paulze was a prolific English speaker (Whaley, 2003). She helped translate Lavoisier’s communications with English-speaking chemists. She helped translate one of Richard Kirwan’s most controversial essays on heat’s nature in reactions between various chemicals. As well, she helped Lavoisier draw diagrams for his publications (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). She had an inspiring salon and extensive conversations with France-based naturalists along with scientists.

Even though women registered considerable scientific attainments in the 18th century, most of them were dissuaded by their communities from studying plant reproduction. Carl Linnaeus developed a plant categorization system hinged on sexual attributes. The system increased communities’ focus on botanical decadence (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). Communities were afraid that female scientists would get dishonorable knowledge from the examples set by nature. Communities projected women as intrinsically unable to reason objectively frequently. As well, communities projected women as intrinsically emotional generally. Women were taken as innate mothers charged with the reproduction of moral and natural societies frequently.

Notably, such definitions of women did not dim the scientific endeavors of some female scientists, including Lady Wortley Mary Montagu (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). Montagu was a prolific author. She observed the inoculation of smallpox, variolation, keenly while on an ambassadorial visit to the then extensive Ottoman Empire (Whaley, 2003). She recorded her observations and feelings about the variolation comprehensively before returning to England, where she pioneered it. Variolation entails the usage of live viruses of smallpox drawn from the blisters on the bodies of patients with mild smallpox infections (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). The viruses were transported in nutshells. Notably, as a scientist, Montagu defied several of the then established conventions and characterizations regarding female scientists. She passionately promoted variolation in her home country against marked resistance from the then established medics. The medics were opposed to variolation since they deemed it to be an Oriental invention (Greenstadt, 2010; Whaley, 2003).

Women made considerable strides as scientific scholars in the 18th century. Laura Bassi was the foremost women to be granted professorship. She was an active member of the well-regarded IAIS (Italian Academy of the Institute of Sciences). As well, she chaired the IEP (Institute of Experimental Physics) for a considerable duration (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). Other leading female scientific scholars in the century were Margaret Cavendish along with Caroline Herschel. Herschel made various astronomical discoveries, including several comets, in own research works as well as William Herschel’s assistant. King George III offered her a scientific office role. In mid-1798, she became the foremost woman to present a scientific paper to the then male-dominated Royal Society (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993).

Cavendish wrote lengthily about philosophy, nature, as well as science, to promote the interest of women in scientific discourse. She criticized various scientific applications, including microscopes and animal tests, as flawed (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). The subjects featuring in her writings commonly included Aristotelianism, scientific methods, philosophy, gender, manners, power, and romance. Even though gender-linked roles were markedly characterized within the century, female scientists experienced and realized considerable scientific attainments. They made considerable progress towards gender-linked equality among scientists. Such equality is now quite evident in the world of science (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993).

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Women’s Roles in Modern Science 

In present times, women are getting ample recognition for the contributions they make to science (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993). Following the Second World War, many of the challenges that female scientists faced priory disappeared. Out of inevitability, or necessity, women rose to scientific positions that were seen as the preserve of men traditionally. The majority of such positions rely on technological and scientific abilities. Following the war, the feminist movement led to the increased societal approval of females into the positions. For instance, in 2009, Baroness Greenfield got an appointment to the position of the Royal Institution’s director. The institution serves and promotes various scientific interests.

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Women have made significant progress in fighting the stereotypes that limit their access to scholarships made for promising, young scientists (Kass-Simon & Farnes, 1993; Whaley, 2003). They have fought the stereotypes significantly by ensuring that as many of them as possible populate the panels that award the scholarships. The women in the panels project female applicants for the scholarships as confident and decisive as the male applicants. That has seen more and more females move into science in recent years. In countries like the UK, girls often outperform boys in science tests. Female-dominated organizations like WISE and global firms like the L’Oreal-UNESCO’s FWS (For Women in Science) encourage girls to view science as a field where they can excel as much as the boys. The FWS rewards females who register exceptional attainments in science.

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Women play considerable functions in promoting science and related research online. Online resources have afforded women a stronger public influence on science. Female bloggers like Christie Wilcox, Karen Vancampenhout, and Jennifer Rohn, who focus on scientific subjects, help shape the general direction of scientific research in present times. The media as well helps shape the general direction of scientific research in present times. Female media personalities like Sheril Kirshenbaum, who focuses on scientific subjects, now influence the direction significantly. They help set the overall agenda for scientific studies along with researches. There are many scientific researches that are driven by women presently. As well, there are more women partnering with males in scientific researches than in the past years.


This paper has explored the roles played by females in science, particularly in the 18th century and in current times. Historians with research interests in science along with gender have zero in on women’s scientific attainments. For the most part of the 18th century, women were taken as socially, as well as intellectually, second-rate to men. Even the, the salons the women put up allowed them increased influence on scientific developments. Many women assisted their spouses execute various scientific experiments at home. Women made considerable progress towards gender-linked equality among scientists. Such equality is now apparent. In present times, women are getting ample recognition for the contributions they make to science. Women play considerable functions in promoting science and related research online. Female bloggers and media personalities focusing on scientific subjects help shape the general direction of scientific research in present times.

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