Not only did Scottish mathematician, science writer, and polymath Mary Fairfax Somerville (December 26, 1780—November 28, 1872) defy the era’s deep-seated bias against women in science, she was the very reason the word “scientist” was coined: When reviewing her seminal second book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, which Somerville wrote at the age of 54, English polymath and Trinity College master William Whewell was so impressed that he thought it rendered the term “men of science” obsolete and warranted a new, more inclusive descriptor to honor Somerville’s contribution to the field.
Reconstructionist Maria Mitchell, herself a pioneer who paved the way for women in science, captured Somerville’s singular genius in a May 1860 article for The Atlantic:To read mathematical works is an easy task; the formulae can be learned and their meaning apprehended: to read the most profound of them, with such appreciation that one stands side by side with the great minds who originated them, requires a higher order of intellect; and far-reaching indeed is that which, pondering in the study on a few phenomena known by observation, develops the theory of worlds, traces back for ages their history, and sketches the outline of their future destiny.
Somerville came to science by way of the arts, the era’s traditional domain for young girls. When her art teacher made a passing reference to Euclid and his theories of geometry to explain perspective in painting, noting that they also illuminated the foundations of astronomy and physics, young Mary found herself mesmerized by the promise of a science so expansive and dimensional. So she pleaded with her brother’s science tutor to help her learn about Euclid. But her ascent to science was far from smooth — this early initiative was met with adamant resistance by her father, who found mathematics not only unsuitable but also sanity-jeopardizing for his daughter. Somerville recalls in her journals:My father came home for a short time, and, somehow or other, finding out what I was about, said to my mother, ‘Peg, we must put a stop to this, or we shall have Mary in a strait jacket one of these days. There was X., who went raving mad about the longitude!’
To correct young Mary’s intellectual aberrations, her parents put her on a steady diet of illustrated ladies’ journals. But those happened to contain puzzles and logical riddles, many of which required mathematical solutions. It was in them that Mary discovered the curious symbols of algebraic equations and was once again enthralled.
Rather than thwarting her budding crush on mathematics, her parents had inadvertently turned it into a lifelong love.
Even so, however, they were bent on sending their daughter down the traditional path destined for women of the era. When she was twenty-four, Mary was married to her distant cousin, Samuel Grieg — a severe man with little faith in women’s capacities beyond their childbearing ability, who forbad Mary from pursuing her studies.
When Grieg died three years later, he left Somerville with two young children, but also with an inheritance and a freedom that opened a new horizon for learning. She soon began corresponding with the mathematician William Wallace at the University of Edinburgh, who mentored her studies in math and astronomy as she at last indulged her intellectual calling.
In 1832, Somerville married another cousin, Dr. William Somerville — a bright and gentle man who thought the world of her, encouraged her studies, and relentlessly helped her master the physical sciences. After the couple moved to London, along with their four children and the two boys from the previous marriage, Somerville met some of the era’s greatest scientific minds, from legendary astronomer William Herschel to computing pioneer Charles Babbage. It was there she became the first mathematical tutor of reconstructionist Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, thus illustrating the beautiful daisy chain of brilliance that unfolds when the hunger for knowledge is set free from the shackles of stereotypes and cultural norms.
In 1835, Somerville and Caroline Herschel, sister of William Herschel and a trailblazing astronomer in her own right, became the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Above all, however, Somerville embodied the richness of mind and spirit that marks out the true scientist. Maria Mitchell, who had met her in 1858, poignantly observes in her Atlantic essay:No one can make the acquaintance of this remarkable woman without increased admiration for her. The ascent of the steep and rugged path of science has not unfitted her for the drawing-room circle; the hours of devotion to close study have not been incompatible with the duties of the wife and the mother; the mind that has turned to rigid demonstration has not thereby lost its faith in the truths which figures will not prove.
Super cool that that’s why we have the word scientist.
Images from 1860 showing a woman getting dressed.
The Dahomey Amazons, as they were called by Western observers, were an all-female regiment of about 6000 women in the Kingdom of Dahomey (which today is part of modern Benin). These women had a reputation as fearless warriors and were known for their excellent fighting and weaponry skills. In the late 19th century, the women won several battles against encroaching French forces, who remarked that their strength rivaled that of the most elite male soldiers.
Clarice Mayne by Bassano, 1910s
i would like this outfit please.
why would they edit so much?
They physically moved her bones. They moved her collar bone lower. I hope stuff like this makes girls realize how ridiculous the media is.
"They moved her collar bone lower". You know what is particularly interesting about this? I was reading an article published in October 1897 called 'Consuelo Throat' To 'Swan Throat'; From Disdain to De Rigueur! Consuelo Sets The Standard, 'Naturally!', which was about about the heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. At the time of the article she had married, become the Duchess of Marlborough, and moved to England, where she was judged as being quite beautiful except for one sad, glaring deficit:
“When the young Duke of Marlborough, two short winters ago, introduced his slender youthful American wife to the inner circles of English society critical folk shook their heads despondingly and gazed askance at her remarkably long neck.
Some were even heard to go so far as to say that it was a pity nature should have been so cruel to an otherwise highly attractive Duchess, and advised a resort any device in hopes of obscuring the pathetic deformity.
"suddenly the fact that she could wear a seven-stringed pearl collar made the Duchess the most envied and admired woman in London, and eventually brought long necks, ‘swan throats,’ they are called into remarkable favor."
[ Description: A woman with dark skin and long dark hair styled in cornrows and braids. She is posed in profile facing the left of the image, wearing full-plate armour that doesn’t have individual breasts fashioned into it. She wears a an ornate multihoop earring with a skull-shaped bead at its centre. ]
The Huntress by S. Ross Browne
her hair… ;-;
Mesolithic female shaman of Bad Dürrenberg, 7000-6500 bce, with reconstructed regalia from animal bones, horns, teeth, and shells. From a wonderful color-illustrated pdf of “Archaeological Finds from Germany” from the paleolithic to the christian era. Other interesting finds too.
“Tired of darkness” from the country’s frequent power outages, a team of teenage girls has developed solar-powered appliances and now sells them across Yemen, writes Nafeesa Syeed for Al-Monitor:
“In Yemen, we have abundant sun,” says Reem Rashed, 16, who works in the company’s human resources section. “We need to exploit solar power because it’s a favorable, free energy and it does no damage to Yemeni society.”
Pictured above: Wafa Al-Rimi, the 16-year-old CEO of the student-run company, Creative Generation in Yemen.
A welder at a boat-and-sub-building yard adjusts her goggles before resuming work, October, 1943. By 1945, women comprised well over a third of the civilian labor force (in 1940, it was closer to a quarter) and millions of those jobs were filled in factories: building bombers, manufacturing munitions, welding, drilling and riveting for the war effort.
See more photos here.