Renaissance (1450-1600) "rebirth"



Malleus Maleficarum ("the Witches' Hammer") Dominican monks 1484 - women inferior minds, "more credulous, and since the chief aim of the devil is to corrupt faith, therefore he attacks them.  Women are naturally more impressionable, and more ready to receive the influence of a disembodied spirit.”

"the great witch craze" – hundred thousand executions;

Pope’s approval for German witch hunt; Toulouse in France killed 400 women in one day; Spanish warrant against elderly women; last known execution 1722 Scotland;



Scientific Revolution 1550-1700;


Ptolemy’s old earth-centered universe;

- 1543 Nicolas Copernicus On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies

- Tycho Brahe - planetary movement

- Johannes Kepler - three laws of planetary motion

- Galileo Galilei – laws of motion

- Issac Newton 1687 Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy)


Francis Bacon 1627 New Atlantis

Utopian society based on scientific progress;

1660s Royal Society of London, Paris Academy of Sciences;

1700s Berlin, St. Petersburg, American Philosophical Society;


"Rise of the Scientific Lady”



Bacon: "He that hath wife & children hath... impediments to great enterprises.  Certainly the best works... have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men."


"Classical knowledge is absolutely necessary for everybody, because everybody has agreed to think so."


Jonathan Swift Gulliver's Travels  satire – Lagado’s “Grand Academy” – build houses downwards;


busy "impaling insects upon the point of a needle for microscopical observations or gathering weeds & chasing butterflies." 

Nicholas Malebranche: "Men did not come into the world to be astronomers or chemists to spend their whole life at the end of a telescope or laboring at a furnace, to deduce trifling consequences from their painful observations."

Malebranche: "all things of an abstracted nature are incomprehensible to them [women], they cannot employ their imagination in disentangling compound questions." 


1630s educational reform Jan Comenius: "At school I was taught one thing only, and that badly, namely Latin.  But during the last 200 years, much new knowledge has come into existence & should be taught in schools.” "Women are also formed in the image of God & are endowed with equal sharpness of mind & capacity for knowledge (often more than the opposite sex) & are able to attain the highest positions, since they have often been called by God Himself to rule over nations, to the study of medicine & other benefits for the human race.”  Study of science "productive of great pleasure".


Anna Maria von Schurmann 1641 The Learned Maid or Whether a Maid May be a Scholar


mathematician John Pell & sister Bathusua Makin (tutor to Princess Elizabeth)

1673 Makin An  Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen: "Seeing nature produces women of such excellent parts, that they do often equalize, sometimes excel men, in whatever they attempt, what reason can be given why they should not be improved?" "To buy wool & flax & dye it scarlet requires skill in natural philosophy.  To plant a field or vineyard requires knowledge in geometry & husbandry.  A woman could not merchandize without knowledge in arithmetic, could not care for her household without medicine.”

Mary Astell  1696 Defence of the Female Sex "I have often thought that not teaching women Latin & Greek was an advantage to them."

1800 Maria Edgeworth, emphasis on chemistry

1800s Margaret Bryan – London school Scientific books, lectures, magazines, instruments for female customers;


Bernard de Fontenelle 1686 Entretiens sur la pluralite de Mondes conversation between young scientists and "Madam the Marquise";

Astronomy (sun-centered universe), time, microscope;

Translated into English by Aphra Behn;

Italian work translated into English by Elizabeth Carter - Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy Explained For the Use of the Ladies in Six Dialogues on Light & Colors     


Athenian Mercury magazine 1690s - question-and-answer form;

"Whereas the questions we receive from the fair sex are both pressing and numerous, we being willing to oblige 'em as knowing they have a very strong party in the world, resolve to set apart the first Tuesday in every month to satisfy questions of that nature.”


Doubters whether women’s minds "should ever be converted into a solid reasoning," editors jab back that critic must be "some sour, old, surly or young disappointed lover, or else a grave Philosophical Don."  "If women joined with men in the discovery, no doubt but their help might make great progresses and find out many rare secrets, hitherto unknown."


1704 on, The Ladies' Diary, or the Woman's Almanack Containing Many Delightful & Entertaining Particulars Peculiarly Adapted for the Use & Diversion of the Fair Sex;

"If walking thru London on May 1, 1709, sun shining brightly, I desired to know the height of a steeple.  I accordingly measured its shadow just as the clock struck 12 and found the shadow’s length 253 1/8 feet; so how high is the steeple?"


"With telescopes I have explor'd the skies,

which instrument has render'd me so wise,

that after I beheld your rolling spheres,

your prize enigma plain as day appears."


"Those who desire to become acquainted with the beauties & wonders of creation, must acquire a habit of patient & attentive observation.”


Jane Marcet 1805 Conversation on Chemistry, Intended More Especially for the Female Sex  - dialogue form;



Margaret Cavendish, (1623-1673) first Duchess of Newcastle

"I cannot publicly preach, teach, declare or explain [my work] by word of mouth, as most of the famous philosophers have done, who thereby made their philosophical opinions more famous than I fear mine will ever be."

1667 desired invitation to a meeting of the Royal Society;

13 books - mix of biography, drama, poetry & science; especially interested in atomism, matter in motion;


rich women as intellectual patrons: Sophia of court of Hanover close associate of Leibniz, arranged for her daughter Sophia Charlotte to study with Leibniz; Sophia Charlotte arranged for her ward Caroline to study with Leibniz.  Caroline later queen of England, great patron of science;


Erasmus Darwin (Charles' grandfather) 1798 A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools;


Public lectures on science – Robert Boyle, John Desaguliers – demonstration experiments on Newtonian physics;


France late 1600s & early 1700s – women running salons; “to gain entrance to the Academie Francaise, you must first pass through the salon of Madame de Lambert.”


Maria Winkelmann - husband's assistant in astronomy;

Tycho Brahe's sister Sofie



Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)

   1772 left Germany to join brother William in England;

   1781 William discovers Uranus

   1783 Caroline finds three new nebulae, uses telescope to “sweep for comets.” "entirely attached to the writing desk & seldom had opportunity of using my new instruments."

   1786-1797 eight comets;

   1798 Catalogue of Stars

   1828 Caroline gold medal Royal Astronomical Society, compiles catalog of nebulae for nephew John Herschel;

   1835 Royal Astronomical Society honorary member;



Mary Somerville (1780-1872)

intellectual circles of Edinburgh

married cousin William Somerville (doctor & explorer himself) 1826 paper "On the Magnetizing Power of the More Refrangible Solar Rays."

1831, translation of French mathematical astronomer Laplace The Mechanism of the Heavens: "Beyond the name on the title page, nothing throughout the work reminded us of its coming from a female hand."

1834 On the Connection of the Physical Sciences: suggestion indirectly helps inspire discovery Neptune;

1848 Physical Geography

1869 On Molecular & Microscopic Science

Somerville: "In my great success, the approval of some of the first scientific men of the age and of the public in general, I was highly gratified, but much less elated than might have been expected, for although I had recorded in a clear point of view some of the most refined & difficult analytical processes & astronomical discoveries, I was conscious that I had never made a discovery myself, that I had no originality.  I have perseverance & intelligence but no genius; that spark from heaven is not granted to our sex.  We are of the earth.  Whether higher powers may be allotted to us in another existence, God knows; original genius, in science at least, is hopeless for women in this world." 

1835 Royal Astronomical Society honorary member;




Moliere Les Femme Savantes

Montaigne: women should learn "those games & bodily exercises which are best calculated to set off their beauty.”

Rousseau: women should learn “to render our lives [as men] easy & agreeable - this is what women should be taught in their infancy."


Marquise Emilie du Chatelet (1706-1749)

Works with Voltaire (who nicknames her "Madame Newton”) at her country estate Cirey;

1744 translation into French of Newton’s Principia Mathematica

wrote Les Institutions Physiques, reconciling ideas of Newton and Leibniz; physical and philosophical investigation of matter and force;

1736 French Academy of Sciences essay contest on nature of fire;


Chatelet: "If I were king, I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it were, one-half of human kind.  I would have women participate in all human rights, especially those of the mind.  There is no place where we are trained to think." 

Voltaire: "Never was woman so learned as she.  She was a great man whose only fault was in being a woman.  A woman who translated & explained Newton... in one word, a very great man."


Marie Lavoisier (1758-1836)

Married chemist Antoine Lavoisier

Drew diagrams and sketches, wrote lab notebooks, translating;

edited husband’s scientific memoirs, hosts salon, 1805 marries physicist Count Rumford;


Sophie Germain (1776-1831)

Barred from mathematician Joseph Lagrange’s lectures at Ecole Polytechnique;



Laura Bassi (1711-1778)

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Bologna - chair of anatomy;

Lectures on experimental physics;


Maria Agnesi (1718-1799)

father mathematician at Bologna,

child prodigy, public performances solving problems;

1748 Analytical Institutions integrating algebra & analysis;

honorary chair of math and natural philosophy at Bologna;


Geology – women “fossilists” collecting specimens for British Geological Society;

Mary Anning 1799-1847 -first complete skeleton of ichthyosaur,

Elizabeth Philpot;


Botany “unmanly”

Rousseau: "I think your idea of amusing your spirited daughter a little & exercising her attention with such agreeable & varied objects as plants is excellent."


Jane Colden Farquher (1724-66) American colonies;

Father: women can study botany due to "their natural curiosity and the pleasure they take in the beauty and variety of dress seems to fit them for it... an Amusement agreeable for the ladies who are often at a loss for fill their time."

New genus of plants;

1757 catalog of 300 local plants


Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1723-1793) cultivating indigo