Was there a woman in science like Albert Einstein?


Since my eldest son loves math and science, I made it a goal to introduce books that convey the struggles that scientists often face. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, is a brilliant introduction to a man who never ceased to question. It is beautifully written and illustrated.

Instantly, my son aligned himself to Mr. Einstein. “Mom, we both love numbers and use them to figure things out. When we can’t solve a problem, we use music to help us think better. Albert plays the violin and I play the cello. Oh, and we NEVER stop asking questions!”

 When my son asked me, “Was there a woman in science like Albert Einstein?”; I became inspired to learn and teach him about women of science.

Cue the book Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky! 

“This book highlights the contributions of 50 notable women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world.” It is an incredible tool to teach my sons the importance of women in this particular field.

In the past, restrictions on women’s access to education were not uncommon. Women were not allowed to publish scientific papers. Women were expected to grow up to exclusively become good wives and mothers while their husbands provided for them. Many people thought women were just not as smart as men. The women in this book had to fight these stereotypes to have the careers they wanted. They broke rules, published pseudonyms, and worked for the love of learning alone. When others doubted their abilities, they had to believe in themselves.

I personally believe this is a book every child should have in their home library, regardless of gender.

Even though I do not have a daughter to empower through this extraordinary written and illustrated book; I have two sons who I can enlighten on the value that women bring to the world.

Growing up I found science fascinating but was unable to align myself to the incredible men who shaped the field of science. Men such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Niels Bohr, Alan Turing.

Now, let’s talk about some women in science!

Mary Anning-fossil collector and paleontologist. When she was only 12, Mary discovered the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton ever found. During the Victorian era, women were not allowed to mingle with educated men, much less publish scientific accomplishments. Doctors and geologists respected her ideas and findings in their own work, but her name was edited out.

Ada Lovelace- mathematician and writer. She designed a way to program the Analytical Engine, using punch cards with a stepwise sequence of rational numbers called Bernoulli numbers. This is recognized as the first computer program.

Mamie Phipps Clark-psychologist and civil rights activist. Mamie used a picture test to prove that race is an integral part of a child’s identity. Mamie realized she could use psychology to prove that segregation was wrong. Her master thesis was “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children.”

Jane Cooke Wright- oncologist. In a time where there were few African-American doctors, and even fewer who were women, Jane developed new techniques to approach cancer treatments that saved lives. Instead of testing chemo drugs on patients directly, Jane tested only samples of their cancer tissue. Jane also invented a new way to treat hard-to-reach tumors. She became a leader in the field of oncology.

Valentina Tereshkova- engineer and cosmonaut. Valentina was chosen to be the first woman in space. She flew solo into space on a shuttle called Vostok VI in 1963, orbiting the earth 48 times. After her flight, Valentina earned a doctorate in engineering and continued to work closely with aerospace engineers and the cosmonaut program.

Maryam Mirzakhani-mathematician. Maryam created an equation that showed the relationship between the amount of simple geodesics and the length of the side of a hyperbolic structure. Her work is fundamental in understanding curved shapes and surfaces. She also figured out the unsolved problem in mathematics of the billiard ball and the infinite possible shapes of the billiard table. She figured out that the ball will always close its loop. This has been compared to how particles might behave and has given us better understanding of geometry, physics, and quantum theory.

As I learned about these women and many others that contributed in monumental ways to the field of science, I pondered and reflected.

  • Was I not able to get passed gender stereotypes in certain professions as a child? Unfortunately, yes. 
  • Would this book have made a difference in my childhood? Definitely!
  • Should books like these be given a special emphasis in schools to inspire young girls to pursue science? Heck yes! 

Eileen Pollack wrote a spectacularly insightful article for The New York Times Magazine, Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?. This quote from the article speaks volumes.

The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.

In elementary school, I only learned of one woman’s contributions to science; the polish physicist and chemist, Marie Curie. She was a pioneer in the the field of radioactivity and the only person honored with Nobel Prizes in two science fields.

So, let us revisit a part of history that can help explain the origin of women’s subordination. Shall we? 

I am currently taking a history of world civilization class and I learned an insightful fact. Gender socialization became cemented through the transition of agriculture and communities. I was not familar with any type of agricultural history. Primarly how women did not benefit from settled agriculture. Women endured harsh, back breaking field work harvesting crops. The agricultural revoultion played a pivotal role in the inequality between men and women. According to Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, the senior male figure became dominant in households, and males became dominant over females in leadership positions.

Wait… oh no! My beloved Trader Joes? Does this mean I should be livid at the fact that history indicates you could possibly be contributing to gender inequality because of your surplus agriculture? No, I just can’t bare to think of you like this.  

Want to know an even more shocking fact? Hold on to your rights ladies!

According to the New York Times article, As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops:

Women’s median annual earnings stubbornly remain about 20% below men’s. Why is progress stalling? It may come down to this troubling reality, new research suggests: Work done by women simply isn’t valued as highly.

How could it be that not much has progressed for women over the course of time?

As I was reading Women in Science with my sons, my oldest leaped up and proclaimed, “I want to read the Albert Einstein book.” Since my educational background is in child development, I know my eldest son is at an age where he begins to gender stereotype based on society’s social roles and norms. It’s my job not only as their mother, but as a woman, to teach the importance of women’s equality.

Can these 50 women in science be on the same caliber as the world holds Albert Einstein to be? That is what I am striving to defy and teach. 

2 thoughts on “Was there a woman in science like Albert Einstein?

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article. I would have really enjoyed if you could have expanded succinctly on some of your points. For instance some of the 50 women scientists that inspired you, why and what were their contributions.

    Keep up the great work

    1. Basilio,

      Thank you immensely for taking the time to not only read my articles, but offer constructive criticism in such a positive and encouraging manner. I value you as a reader, especially your perspective from a father’a point of view.

      I revised the article and expanded on the view points you suggested. I would have loved to elaborate on all 50 women who pioneered in the field of science, since they are all equally as important, but I detailed on a few just to give my more avid readers, such as yourself a predilection for the book.

      One of my goals with the blog is to encourage more literacy at home. I am hoping my alignment of the personal lessons and books, encourage parents to actually purchase them and create a home library of meaningful books.

      I hope you find it even more insightful the second time around.

      Best regards,
      Arlene!

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