Smithsonian Magazine profiled Marie Rossiter in a recent article about women in science. This is a great article on many levels and it’s an enjoyable read. Marie was a graduate student at Yale in 1969. She enrolled in a program on the history of science and discovered her male professors downplayed the role of women in science, even dismissing Marie Curie who twice won the Nobel Prize.
Rossiter made the role of women in science her life work and published a study entitled Women Scientists in America chronicling her findings. Her study probed the ways scientific fields deterred women. Rossiter’s study impressed the National Science Foundation and they funded her research for many years. She published two additional volumes, bringing her study results into the 21st century.
In the course of her studies, Rossiter discovered an earlier scientist, Matilda Gage, whose work was overlooked by historians. Women scientists have long been ignored, not given credit for their work, and even written out of history. Ms Gage wrote in the mid-1800s about the way scientific contributions by women were overlooked. Gage was the first to publish a study on American women in science. In a paper in the 1990s, Rossiter coined a phrase – The Matilda Effect – to describe the practice of ignoring women’s contributions. The effect is wide spread and applies to many disciplines. The Matilda Effect became a catch phrase and has been cited in numerous publications since.
I just ran across a book review of a book entitled Her Guilty Genius by Marie Benedict. This book is another story about ignoring (or burying) the contributions of a woman scientist. It’s a story about Rosalind Franklin, a British scientist. Franklin discovered the double helix of DNA in the 1940s. Her research was stolen by her colleagues to keep her from getting any credit for her discoveries. I haven’t read this book yet, but I am looking forward to it.