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Women, Science, and Nature

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  From J. L. Hammett Co., Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of School Furniture, Black Boards, etc., [1872?].
From J. L. Hammett Co., Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of School Furniture, Black Boards, &c., [1872?].
  This Text
"Bryant's Celestial Indicator" | "Heliotellus" | "Lunatellus" | "Long's Patent Tellurian" | "Fifteen-Inch Movable Planisphere" | "Holbrook's Orrery" | "Microscopes and Objects" | "Philosophical Apparatus" — all in J.L. Hammett,
Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of School Furniture, Black boards, &c., [1872?]
Catalog record

Memoir and Biography
"I Knew Most of the Birds" and
"I Made a Collection of Shells" in Mary Somerville,
Personal Recollections from Early Life to Old Age, 1874

"Maria Learned the Use of the Sextant" in Maria Mitchell,
Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals 1896

Texts
"Geography is Connected with Astronomy" and
"No Science More Calculated to Exalt the Soul" in:
The Fireside Friend, or, Female Student, 1840

"Nature" in:
The New England Offering, (Feb. 1850)

"Natural Philosophy is Too Wide a Field" in S. Gould,
A Golden Legacy to Daughters, 1857
 

The sources above and below help to document a time when serious study of the natural sciences could be undertaken at home—when, even in schools and colleges, it included large amounts of time spent outdoors collecting specimens and making concrete observations, and was understood to be inseparable from appreciating the beauty of nature and the power of God. Concern for young women's physical health and religious and aesthetic training, and descriptions of their affinity for details and record-keeping, helped justify their sometimes extensive participation in botany and astronomy. For these arguments, and for more sources describing women's opportunities and experiences in the natural sciences at this time, click the links in the right-hand column above and below.


  The Course of Study at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, 1838-1839, from The Power of Christian Benevolence: Illustrated in the Life and Labors of Mary Lyon, 1855.
"The Course of Study" at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, 1838-1839, from The Power of Christian Benevolence: Illustrated in the Life and Labors of Mary Lyon, 1855.
  This Course of Study
Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, in
The Power of Christian Benevolence
Catalog record

This Letter
"Letter from the Girls in Syracuse," in Marth MacLear,
The History of the Education of Girls in New York and in New England, 1800-1870, 1926
Catalog record

More Courses of Study
"Dr. Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies" in Catalogue of Dr. Dio Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies, 1866

Smith College, in Helps for Ambitious Girls, 1900

Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture, Gardening, and Horticulture for Women, It is Proposed to Establish a College Where Instruction Will be Given to Women..., [1901]
 
  Letter from the Girls in Syracuse, dated August 20, 1845, to the Girls in New York, from The History of the Education of Girls in New York and in New England (1926) by Martha MacLear.
"Letter from the Girls in Syracuse, dated August 20, 1845, to the girls in New York" from The History of the Education of Girls in New York and in New England (1926) by Martha MacLear.
 
More Letters
"Letter from Miss Mitchell" in Maria Mitchell, 1896

Photographs
Class in Physics and Class Studying Soils,
Hampton Normal and Industrial School, c.1903
Harvard's Social Museum Collection

Texts
"The Study of Nature" in Why Go to College?, 1897

Association for the Advancement of Women, Papers Read Before the Association for the Advancement of Women at its ... Annual Conference, [S.l.: s.n., 1883?]-1886.
 

 

  Analysis of Stellar Spectra, 1891, Harvard College Observatory.
"Analysis of Stellar Spectra," 1891, Harvard College Observatory.
  This Photograph
View
Catalog record

More Photographs
Observatory Women Computers, etc.
Harvard College Observatory, in collection of Harvard University Archives

Texts
"Women's Work at the Harvard Observatory" in The National Exposition Souvenir, 1893
All scientists

Illustrations
"Interior of Botanical Laboratory" in Higher Education in Indiana, 1891

"Frontispiece" in Our Famous Women, 1884
 

Women hired to attend to the details of scientific work in turn-of-the-century observatories and laboratories sometimes found time for their own original research. These sources (above and below; click the links in the right-hand column for more examples) describe their work and workspaces and the frustrations and excitement they experienced.


  From the journal of Williamina Paton Fleming, March 5, 1900.
From the journal of Williamina Paton Fleming, March 5, 1900.
  This Manuscript
"If one could only go on with original work," and
"I cannot make my salary meet my expenses," in
Journal of Williamina Paton Fleming, 1900
Catalog record

Texts
"Woman in Science" in Art and Handicraft in the Woman's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
"COMPUTER: Duties" in Women Professional Workers, 1921
"Botanical Sciences" in Training for the Professions, 1924

Photographs
"Filtering and Sterilizing Culture Media" 1929
Industrial Life Photograph Collection

People
Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming
 

 

  The Nature-Study Club--Early Wild Flowers, from Woman's Home Companion (March 1903).
"The Nature-Study Club—Early Wild Flowers," from Woman's Home Companion (March 1903).
  This Illustration
"The Nature Study Club," 1903,
Woman's Home Companion
Catalog record

This Text
"The Flower School,"
Curious Schools, 1881
Catalog record

More Illustrations
"A Botany Lesson,"
Curious Schools, 1881
"Work, Play, and Nature Study at Hillcrest Farm" in Annual Report of the New York Probation and Protective Association , 1920
 
  From The Flower School at Corlear's Hook, in Curious Schools (1881).
From "The Flower School at Corlear's Hook" in Curious Schools, (1881).
  More Texts
"We Studied Botany Under the Trees" in
Happy School Days, 1912

"Introduction to Nature Study" and
"Flower Finder" in
Scouting for Girls, 1920

"Teachers' Leaflets on Nature Study" and
"What is Nature Study?" in
Reports of the Industrial Commission on Immigration, 1901

"She is to Study Nature" in
The Education of Women, 1923
 

As distance grew between science and religion and between theory and direct experience, and as fields like botany and astronomy were increasingly rationalized and professionalized, the old arguments for women's participation created fewer opportunities for them. While some still managed to pursue the natural sciences, many instead chose the nature-study movement, which enlisted large numbers of early-20th-century women and girls as teachers and students.

But "nature study is not the study of a science, as of botany, entomology, geology, and the like. ... It is wholly informal and unsystematic.... It is entirely divorced from definitions or from explanations in books. ... It simply trains the eye and the mind to see and to comprehend the common things of life; and the result is not directly the acquirement of science, but the establishing of a living sympathy with everything that is" ("What Is Nature Study?" 1901).

For more sources related to nature study and a few that contrast with it, click the links in the right hand column above and below.


  From How Girls Can Help Their Country (1917) by Juliette Gordon Low.
From How Girls Can Help Their Country (1917) by Juliette Gordon Low.
  This Book
"Star Chart," and
"How to Find Time by the Stars," in,
How Girls Can Help Their Country, 1917 Catalog record
All Girl Scouts

Texts
"Machines that Feel and See" in
Woman's Home Companion (March, 1903)

"Science" in
Women Workers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School 1929

Illustrations
"A Science Class" in
Women Workers at the Bryn Mawr Summer School 1929
 

 

Selected Bibliography for Women, Science, and Nature

Creese, Mary R. S. Ladies in the Laboratory? American and British Women in Science, 1800-1900. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1998.

See chapter 10, "Observers, 'Computers,' Interpreters, and Popularizers: Astronomy." The first section of that chapter, "American Women," includes profiles of Maria Mitchell (pp. 225-226), Williamina Fleming (pp. 231-232), and some of Fleming's colleagues. "The important stellar catalogs produced by the three early Harvard women astronomers Fleming, Maury, and Winlock undoubtedly constitute the major contributions by women to turn-of-the-century astronomical research in the United States."

Rossiter, Margaret W. Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

See especially chapter 1, "Women's Colleges: The Entering Wedge," and chapter 3, "'Women's Work' in Science."

Tolley, Kimberley. The Science Education of American Girls: A Historical Perspective. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003.

See chapter 2, "Science for Ladies, Classics for Gentlemen," chapter 3, "'What Will Be the Use of This Study?,'" chapter 5, "The Rise of Natural History," and chapter 6, "'Study Nature, Not Books.'" Each chapter closes with a helpful and more concise conclusion.

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