The Role of Women in Science during the 18th C and Today

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TheRole of Women in Science during the 18th C and Today


Women had always been undermined during the historical times. Theirroles were limited to performance of household chores such ascleaning, preparing meals, and looking after their children. On theother hand, men were seen as providers. They engaged in differentcareer fields as per their interests that led them to dominateoccupations such as engineering and medicine among others. The famousmale scientists at the time included Sir Isaac Newton and ReneDescartes to mention just a few. There is inadequate informationregarding women who contributed to the Science discipline. An exampleinvolves Maria Winkelmann, an astronomer, who was inspired to becomea scientist. She had to overcome various challenges and strugglessuch as accessing education to achieve her dream career (Hargittai,2015). One of the benefits of the Enlightenment era was that itallowed for communication and growth, which enabled the femalescientists to pursue their desired professions. The paper seeks todiscuss the role of women in the Scientific Revolution of the 18thC and the functions they play today.

Therole women played in the Scientific Revolution of the 18thC

As most women developed an interest in Science in the earlyEighteenth Century, they mostly ventured into Astronomy, Mathematics,Physics, Chemistry, Botany, Medicine, and Natural History (Hargittai,2015). Natural Science allowed them to apply their knowledge in thedevelopment of theories. However, for the assumptions to be adopted,they used their skills and abilities in research and performance ofexperiments that enabled them to prove their hypothesis. In-depthinvestigations led them to draw accurate conclusions resulting in thepublishing of their work. For instance, Ana de Osorio, the Countessof Cinchon played a role in the Scientific Revolution by discoveringthe cure of Malaria (Hargittai, 2015). Ana de Osorio was the firstEuropean lady to identify the medicinal properties of the quininebark that she had brought back from Peru. The scientist had beenliving in the region at a time when the Spanish were its occupantsregion, as a wife of the Viceroy, when she suffered from Malaria andused it to cure herself. Being a respondent in her research workenabled the Countess to develop a theory regarding the use of quinineas a treatment of Malaria as she proved the drug to be successful.Therefore, one of the roles that women played in the ScientificRevolution was to formulate various schools of thoughts that createda foundation for further research.

A common notion in the society during the Scientific Revolution wasthat the females were inferior to men. The traditional view had beenin existence since the historical times where women were raised toget married, bear children, and remain obedient to their husbands.The Enlightenment period introduced a new era that changed theperception of men. During the 18th C, some of the womenwere able to access education in extraordinary ways. For instance,Maria Sibylla Merian learned about flowers and insects by spendingtime with her stepfather in the fields where they used to collectspecimens (Frize, 2013). She used her artistic skill to present thevarious stages of development of their collections that managed toattract the Director of Amsterdam Botanical Garden. She got to workin South America and published her book of engravings that made hernaturalist. Another influential individual who had to be tutored athome was Laura Bassi. The Italian Scientist was interested inScience, and through the motivation of her family and friends, shemanaged to work as an Anatomy Professor at the age of 21 (Frize,2013). Bassi managed to become one of the people who introduced theNewtonian Physics and Philosophy to Italy and joined the elite groupof academics that was known as Benedettini. It is significant to notethat with all these professional achievements that Bassi managed toattain, she was also a mother to eight children. Hence, the women’srole in the Scientific Revolution was to advance the gender equalityconcept that enabled the men to view them as having the samepotential even though they remained different.

Another function that the women played in the Scientific Revolutionwas working as assistants to other scientists who were primarilytheir husbands to pave the way for their later discoveries. In the18th C, the females who ventured into the field of Scienceendured various struggles and challenges such as education as earlierdiscussed (Frize, 2013). One of the ways in which one could easilyadvance their knowledge and skills was by working as an assistant tothe males in the discipline. When a person is in such a position, itimplies that their abilities are limited as they have to remainsubmissive to their bosses. For example, Maria Winkelmann firstworked as an assistant to Christopher Arnold when she discovered herinterest in astronomy (Hargittai, 2015). She later assumed the sameposition while working for her husband. Her children decided tofollow in the footpath of their parents, and when the son became thedirector of the Observatory at Berlin Academy of Science, the motherand the sisters worked as his assistants. The position hindered Mariafrom being acknowledged for her work since when she found the Cometit would not be published in her name. However, when it was laterdiscovered that she was the first woman to locate the comet, hercontribution to astronomy was recognized. Although her role in thescientific revolution was in the shadows, it paved the way for laterdiscoveries as she demonstrated the potential of women to do greatthings.

As earlier mentioned, the cultural practices hindered women frombeing part of the scientific world. The few, who were motivated,played a crucial role in making a mark that showed it was possible torise above the traditions. For instance, Margaret Cavendish taughtherself various disciplines such as Mathematics and Astronomy(Hargittai, 2015). She took advantage of her position as the wife tothe Duke of Newcastle and exchanged ideas with other naturalphilosophers even though at times they would disagree. It can beargued that Cavendish showed that it was possible to have your workpublished as a woman. During that era, many scientific works of womenremain unpublished or would be stolen by other men. However, thewomen in the 18th C contributed to the revolution byrising above such intimidation and getting their effort recognized bythe scientific community.

Therole women play in Science today

In today’s world, the number of female scientists has significantlygrown. According to Hopkins (2015), more women have joined the topfields in the Science discipline. One of the duties they perform isthey have continued to develop theories and perform further researchon the already existing ones. For instance, some female scientistshave received the Nobel Laureate prizes for their contribution toScience. Their involvement andmotivation in the scientific field have been boosted by therecognition and awards being offered to women through the NobelPrizes. Besides, the advancement in recent technology encourages ahigh rate of innovation among individuals and provides more efficientresults as compared to those used in the past. Therefore, women candemonstrate their potential and make a significant contribution toScience by applying their creativity using available techniques tomake further discoveries and develop theories.

Another role played by women inScience today is the development of policies and strategies thatshall address the challenges they experience. For example, the genderpay gap among Science professionals remains an issue today. Thefemale scientists in the profession understand these problems andhave come together to form alliances that seek to address theidentified challenges. It is believed that when the women acrossdifferent regions unite, they are likely to brainstorm and come upwith reliable solutions to their problems (Hopkins, 2015).Besides, the times have changed, and the traditional notions wherethe male counterparts undermined women have ended. In some countries,the ladies hold senior positions such as presidents and ministersthat make it easier to facilitate the implementation of policies thatare favorable to the females. The women are also expertise in theirvarious scientific fields, which implies that they are capable ofdeveloping efficient and economical approaches that shall address thechallenges they encounter in their profession.

Hopkins (2015) states that even though the number of women in Sciencetoday has increased those pursuing fields such as Engineering remainsvery few. It has prompted the women scientists to ensure they act asrole models to the young generation and create awareness about thebenefits of pursuing a career in Science. One of the ways theyinfluence the young people is by giving inspiring talks to thestudents in their learning institutions. A student might be willingto become a scientist, but the parents might discourage her based onthe gender roles concept, or arguing another occupation is better andmore suitable for them than that involving Science. In suchcircumstances, having a female scientist who underwent a similarexperience talk to the students on how she overcame such a situation,can inspire them to embrace the profession. Secondly, women inScience are putting effort to their work so that they can demonstrateto them using their achievements in the field and the discoveriesthey have made. For example, when the students see a female scientisthas been awarded a Nobel Prize or they have contributed to a changein the society, they are likely to be inspired to pursue a career inthe discipline (Emeagwali, 2016). Female scientists have taken up therole of encouraging the younger generation to pursue scientificcareers because it helps increase their numbers and as they grow,they become powerful.

Education is considered a crucial element in the future of ascientist. The cost of the Science courses offered in highereducation institutions is usually more expensive than otherdisciplines such as Arts (Emeagwali, 2016). The high fees impliesthat lack of adequate financial resources might limit the number offemale students who desire to establish a Science career. The womenin Science today have identified the challenge and have ventured intoprojects that are aimed at promoting scientific education for thefemale students. For example, they are partnering with educationalinstitutions that provide fully funded or partial scholarship.Besides, since most women are also becoming comfortable when theyreach the graduate and undergraduate levels, they are beingencouraged to advance their studies to the professional area so theycan secure better income like the male counterparts. The women inScience today are conducting empowerment programs in science andtechnology that are aimed at increasing their population in theScience world. They are also expected to make them remain committedto their scientific work that continues to impact the society and putfoundations for the future positively.

In conclusion, women in Science perform significant roles in theworld. During the Scientific Revolution of the 18th C,female scientists were few and experienced more challenges such asaccess to education. Some of the duties they performed at the timeincluded the development of theories, promoted the gender equalitynotion, accepted to work as assistants as it paved the way for laterdiscoveries, and made a mark that allowed them to rise above theimpossible by getting their works published. Today, the number offemale scientists has increased, but there is still need to have morewomen in the discipline to reduce the gender gap. Some of the rolesthey perform involve continuing with the discovery and furtherresearch of earlier professionals, development of policies, servingas role models to the younger generation, and promoting scientificeducation for women.


Hopkins, N. (2015). Reflecting on Fifty Years of Progress for Womenin Science. DNA &amp Cell Biology, 34(3), 159-161.doi:10.1089/dna.2015.2803

Emeagwali, N. S. (2016). Women in Stem: Their Evolution, Triumphs,and Challenges. Techniques: Connecting Education &amp Careers,91(8), 14-19.

Frize, M. (2013). Laura Bassi and science in 18th Century Europe:The extraordinary life and role of Italy`s pioneering femaleprofessor. Berlin: Springer.

Hargittai, M. (2015). Women Scientists: Reflections, Challenges,and Breaking Boundaries. New York: Oxford University Press.