AP Euro- 2 1 November, 2011 Women and the Scientific Field During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries women were inferior of the two sexes, they were expected only to take care of the household, raise a child, cook, take care of their husband, and any other jobs that were suitable to them. However as time passed many women became interested in other fields of study such as chemistry, astronomy, biology, botany, physics, and medicine.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries women began to break the social norm as they ventured into the world of sciences, and these women were met with a variety of conflicting attitudes; both positive and negative; some people were completely against it, some men supported it, and some women supported their sex by proving themselves in their respective fields of study. Those who were against women who actively participated in scientific research were often men but also included other women. Up until then, men were nearly always seen as the dominant figure in society as opposed to women.
Johann Theodor Jablonski, secretary to the Berlin Academy of Sciences, said in a letter to the Academy that he didn't believe that Maria Winkelmann should continue to work on their calendar of observations because the Academy was ridiculed for having a woman prepare its calendar (Doc 8). The men cared about what others thought of their academy and how they ran it; more so, men were embarrassed of women doing the things that men usually did. Also, when women did participate in scientific meetings and discussions, they were often met with discrimination and inequity.
Samuel Pepys, an English diarist, said that when the Duchess of Newcastle was invited to a meeting of the Royal Society of Scientists, she dressed so antiquely and her behavior was so ordinary that he did not like her at all, and she did not say anything worth hearing (Doc 3). Although, Men were not the only ones who did not believe that women should study science. Marie Thiroux d'Arconville, a French anatomical illustrator, did not think that women should study medicine and astronomy because those subjects were too complicated for women.
She says that women should be satisfied with the power of grace and beauty and not reach out to the study of medicine and astronomy (Doc 12). Despite the fact that many men could not accept that women were beginning to study science, there were many men who supported women who participated in scientific activities. The author of a Gottingen newspaper article describing Dorothea Schlozer, the first woman to receive a Ph. D. from a German University, described Schlozer as a hard working scholar who takes care of her household needs as well as her studies (Doc 13).
This showed how there were men that understood the women and their determination to study in the science field. There were also men associated with the women who supported them too. Such as Gottfried Kirch, a German astronomer, and husband of Maria Winkelmann talks about how his wife Maria- while Gottfried was sleeping-found a comet in the sky that he did not see the night before (Doc 6). This showed how women were capable of doing things that even men couldn’t do. In addition, Johannes Hevelius, the author of The Heavenly Machine, with the help of his wife Elisabetha Hevelius used a sextant to collaborate on astronomical research (Doc 4).
Johannes set the prime example of a man who approved of women advancing in science. Women who did approve of their partake in the science field had to work towards building their respect and status. They did so by proving their capabilities and potential. Marquise Emilie du Chatelet, a French aristocrat and scientist, described her long workday that started at eight in the morning and continued until five in the morning of the next day. And she had to choose between this or lose the fruits of labor if she should die in childbirth (Doc 11).
This shows that although women were seen as inferior in the intellectual world, there were women like Marquise Emilie du Chatelet who worked long and hard to contribute to the scientific world. Some women even dedicated their whole lives to their field of study, such as Maria Sibylla Merian who described her journey studying insects that started when she was very young (Doc 5). These women who devoted their whole lives to improve the understanding of science in the 17th and 18th centuries prove that they ignored the fact that women were discriminated in the scientific world at the time and just focused on what they wanted to accomplish.
Although there were setbacks, such as men who discriminated against female scientists, most dedicated women persisted. Marie Meurdrac wrote that she told herself that a woman should remain silent and should not display her own knowledge, but she realized that the minds of women were equal to men and had the same potential (Doc 2). The impact that women had on science during the 17th and 18th centuries may not have been apparent due to the disapproval from many; but in reality, many women changed scientific research in many ways because of their persistence and determination.
Although some men and women had negative attitudes towards women who participated in scientific research because of sexist views that were common at that time, there were many men and women who supported women who took part in the study of science, and many women did contribute many things to science in the 17th and 18th centuries. Because of women who took a risk by starting to study science, more and more women began to study science by the end of the Scientific Revolution.