Women in Science and Mathematics: informal notes on some of my heroes
by Kristin Henry

In childhood, I loved books about Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman. They were my heroes. But I wanted to hunt dinosaurs!

In college, I learned about Rosalind Franklin and Maud Menten in textbook footnotes and side-bars. In a bookstore, a biography of Marie Curie was accidentally shelved where I was browsing.

Now, I search for information about the great women in science and mathematics whenever I can. These are my informal notes, with references to books and other web sites.

Mary Anning (1799-1847)

When I was a little girl, I was going  to be a  paleontologist  and dig for dinosaurs.  I could name at least 20 dinos.  Well, even though I never became a paleontologist, I'm still fascinated by fossils and dinosaurs.  So, when I was in London, I had to go to their Natural History museum.  That's where I found out about Mary Anning, the "fossil lady".

She was a truly unconventional Victorian woman. Mary Anning (1799-1847) was an excellent fossil hunter, an expert  in her field, and a professional. She discovered the first Plesiosaur, among other great fossil finds.

Here's the publishing info on a booklet I found about her: Crispin Tickell, Mary Anning of Lyme Regis,published by Lyme regis Philpot Museum . 1996 (reprinted 1998).

Some links: Mary Anning; Mary Anning finder of fossils; some pix of plesiosaur fossils

Marie Curie

Marie Curie: a Biography, by Eve Curie, is a must read. This woman was amazing! She was also the first person to win two Nobel Prizes (1903 for Physics and 1911 for Chemistry).

Madame curie: a Biography, by Eve Curie. De Capo Press abridged republication of edition published in New York in 1937. reprinted by arrangement with doubleday and Co.. 1986.


"...Thank you, my dear friend, for your concern. I know Cyril is a fanatic, but I cannot imagine he would harm me because of my mathematics, my work as a teacher at the museum, or even because I would not become a Christian...Even if my life is in danger, what good is a life that one does not live as one chooses?..."
--Hypatia (360-415 AD)

Hypatia! She was a favorite of the Romantic Poets--the young virgin sacrificed for a new age. But in reality she was a brilliant mathematician and scholar, and lived quite some time past puberty. Tragic ending, though...they brutally murdered her.

For a scholarly study of Hypatia, take a look at Hypatia of Alexandria, by Maria Dielska (1995).

(Hypatia quoted from Mathematical Scandals by Theoni Pappas, Wide World Publishing/Tetra, San Carlos, CA. 1997)

Ada Byron Lovelace

Before dying of cancer, at the age of 36, Ada Byron Lovelace became the first computer programmer. Not only did she work without a "debug" utility, but she tested her programs without computers...they hadn't been built yet. In Mathematical Scandals, Theoni Pappas writes, "such fields as mathematics were considered harmful to a woman's health because it would tax her fragile brain." 1 While this view may not be as extreme today, it's influence can still be felt. In fact, my grandmother asked me if my work with computers would be "bad for the baby" while pregnant. It may seem silly, but some ideas die hard.

Links: Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace , From Ada's Notes...

Book: 1.Mathematical Scandals
Theoni Pappas, Wide World Publishing/Tetra, San Carlos, CA. 1997

Barbara McClintock

Transposable elements? Genes jumping around on the chromosomes?

One of the most remarkable scientific minds toiled unrecognized for nearly a lifetime. Barbara McClintock was one of the first people to suggest that the genome is dynamic.

A feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, by Evelyn Fox Keller. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York. 1983.

Maud Menten (1879-1960)

This woman is one of the main people responsible for a critical equation that challenged me, from one course to another. It's the Michealis-Menten equation!

links: Kinetics of Enzymatic Reactions: The Michaelis-Menten Equation

Trotula of Salerno

It's the Dark ages, and you want to avoid complications in child birth. Who do you turn to? Trotula of Salerno. To her credit are two important medical books from the 11th century: The Diseases of Women (aka: Trotula Major), and Trotula Minor.