women in science

4000 years of women in science. The book The Hidden Giants published by www.lulu.com contains all the information.

Location: United States

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chapter 3

“minds have no sex”

The names of early women are difficult to find; they are rare and precious each one. I am sure more women are there to be found, but I must move on through the centuries.

Lots of things were happening as the High Middle Ages spun to an end. War broke out in Europe. In 1338 CE Edward III’s claim to the throne of France precipitated the Hundred Years’ War (1337 – 1453 CE). This was complicated by the Black Death – the Bubonic Plague – that first arrived in Europe in 1348 CE. Almost a third to half the population of Europe eventually fell prey to this devastating illness. War-torn lands with their sick and dying populations did not provide much freedom to pursue knowledge. We don’t find an excess of Western scholars female or male.

Despite the wars and the plague the Renaissance (rebirth) began in Italy in the 14th century and in the 16th century in northern Europe thus marking the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age. In 1440 scholars fleeing from the Byzantime Empire founded the Platonic Academy in Florence, Italy. Then in 1453 the Turks conquered the Byzantime Empire, causing a further influx of scholars, teachers, and books into Italy. During the same time Johann Gutenberg (c. 1398 – 1468 CE) invented printing from movable type. Today most historians view the Renaissance as largely an intellectual and ideological change, occuring in many places at different times, rather than a substantive one. Access to scolarship still remained a privilege accorded to few people.

Just as Marco Polo had re-established contact with the Far East and the crusades had brought the literature and culture of the Middle East back to Europe, the 15th century had its own travel triumphs. Between 1420 and 1460 Prince Henry the Navigator (Portugal) explored the seas establishing trade routes to India. Of course, in 1492 Columbus sailed to the New World bringing new continents to the attention of Europeans. Magellan’s voyagers (1519 – 1522 CE) completed a trip round the world. By the 16th century the entire globe had been criss-crossed with the exception of the poles.

Western religion was changing as well. In 1483 Martin Luther was born. A year later a papal bull condemned witchcraft, and the inquisition began its insidious march. Just fifty years later John Calvin became a religious leader in Geneva, Switzerland (1541 – 1564 CE) and the Protestant Reformation was well underway.

Again war struck the land. The Thirty Years Was began in Germany in 1618, and war spread throughout Europe as part of the Franco-Spanish rivalry.

Both Nicolai Copernicus (1543 CE) and Johannus Kepler (1609 CE) advanced astronomical knowledge; Copericus by publishing the theory that the Sun is the center of the Solar System, and Kepler for suggesting mathematical laws to predict the motions of the planets about the Sun. Their works were known to the literati, but spread slowly through the general population. So although the Copernican Revolution represented a true change in world view, it took a few centuries to embed inself into the common consciousnous. Kepler’s laws are still used today to predict the motions of the planets. They are a fundamental and crucial part of modern astronomy.

As part of these turbulent times, women still managed to contribute to the scholarly life.

Something special had happened in Italy with the founding of the medical school in Salerno in 875 CE. As I said in the last chapter, from that time to the modern age, for over a thousand years, women equally with men have been welcome at the doors of Italian universities. I mentioned a few of the talented Italian women in the last chapter, especially those who worked in the medical professions. Here are four more. Beatrix Galindo (1474 – 1534 CE) took her degree in Latin and Philosophy from Salerno and went back to her home in Spain where she became a professor of Latin at the University of Salamanca and filled her idle hours by founding a hospital. We cannot forget Tarquinia Molza (1542 – 1617 CE) who excelled in poetry, music, mathematics, and astronomy. She became proficient in Greek, Latin and Hebrew at an early age. So respected was she that the Senate of Rome conferred upon her the singular honor of Roman citizenship, transmissible in perpetuity to her descendents. During her lifetime she was one of the leading figures of northern Italian musical culture. A reference for her is a book in Italian called Cronistoria del Concerto by Elio Durante and Anna Maria Martellotti. One can find portraits of her on the web. Lorenza Strozzi (1515 – 1591 CE) was born in Florence. She joined a convent where she became known for her knowledge of science, poetry, and art. As late as 1604 her hymns were still sung in the churches of France and Italy. Fulvia Olympia Morati (1526 – 1555 CE) who, at the age of 14 wrote dialogues in Greek and Latin, was invited to lecture at the University of Ferrara at age 16. She died before she could assume the chair of Greek at the University of Heidelberg.

By this time, the Renaissance was in full flower in Italy; for example, in 1503 CE Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. Mozans lists a number of Italian women in the 17th and 18th centuries who attained eminence in physical science, mathematics, the classical and oriental languages, philosophy, law, and theology. Fifteen of them are listed below.

Rosanna Somaglia Landi of Milan was a linguist and translator of the Greek poet Anacreon (who lived between 563 and 478 BCE); Maria Selvaggia Borghini (1654 – 1731 CE) of Pisa was a translator of the words of Tertullian (one of the very early Christian writers) and a poet in her own right.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646 – 1684 CE) of Venice was a prodigy of learning. She received a doctorate in philosophy at Padua in the presence of thousands of scholars. The University had a medal coined in her honor and still has a marble statue of her. Vassar College in New York has a stained glass window depicting her achievements. She studied Latin, Greek, music, theology and mathematics and eventually learned Hebrew, Arabic, Chaldaic (the language of an ancient region of southern Mesopotamia), and also French, English and Spanish. She studied philosophy and astronomy. Musically talented, by the time she was 17 years old she could sing, compose, and play instruments such as the violin, harp, and harpsichord. This is all well worth a statue and a window or two.

Eleonora Barbapiccola (born 1702 CE) of Salerno translated into Italian the works of the French philosopher-mathematician Descartes thus bringing his work to Italy. Her breadth of knowledge in science and mathematics made her famous throughout her region of Italy.

Famous for the phrase cognito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) the mathematician-philosopher Descartes (1596 – 1650 CE) dedicated his main work the Principia Philosophiae (1644 CE) to Elizabeth of Bohemia saying that in her alone were the talents for metaphysics and mathematics united. His work La géométrie includes his application of algebra to geometry from which we now have Cartesian geometry. Descartes had a number of women who were his disciples including Anne de La Vigine (b. 1684), Marie Dupré, and Elizabeth, Princess Palatine (1618 – 1680 CE). Descartes spent his last mouths in the court of Christina of Sweden (1626 – 1689 CE), a patron of the arts and sciences and quite learned herself.

Maria Pellegrina Amoretti (1756 – 1786 CE) was a doctor of both canon and civil law, perhaps the first woman to achieve this distinction. Cristina Roccati (1732 – 1797 CE) taught physics for 27 years in the Scientific Institute of Rovigo. Her complete lectures on Newtonian physics survive in manuscript today. Clelia Borromeo (1684 – 1777 CE) was fondly called by her contemporaries gloria Gennunsium – the Glory of the Genoese – because she was so learned in science, math, mechanics, and language. No problem in mathematics seemed beyond her comprehension. The clelie curve is named after her (1728 CE). There was also Diamante Medaglia (c. 1763 CE), a poet/mathematician who wrote on the importance of mathematics in the curriculum of studies for women. She had students from all over Europe study with her. Anna Morandi Manzolini (1716 – 1774 CE) held the chair of anatomy at the University of Bologna. She made a number of discoveries as the result of her dissections of cadavers. She made anatomical models out of wax that were highly prized by the University. These models were the archetypes of models used routinely in medical schools today. Laura Bassi (1711 – 1778 CE) was an anatomist and natural philosopher who received the doctoral degree from the University of Bologna. She held the chair of anatomy there and also gave lectures in physics. She and her husband, Giuseppe Veratti, created one of the best experimental physics laboratories known in 18th century Europe. There were so many talented Italian women who were free to explore their intellectual side.

Why was this so? Was this because the women followed the example of the ancient Roman matron who insisted upon her rights? I do not know. Perhaps the fact that Italy was the home of the Renaissance in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries also relates to this. Whatever the reason, these strong and learned women of Italy held firm for equality and achieved it. They asked for no favors; they simply expected the same opportunity as a man.

By the way, Salerno was probably not the very first university. The University of Nalanda was founded in the 5th century CE by the Gupta emperors in India. There were thousands of students and teachers at that school. The courses of study included scriptures of Buddhism, Vedas, logic, grammar, and medicine. Arguably, however, the first university was the Academy founded in 387 BCE by the Plato in the grove of Academos near Athens, where students were taught philosophy, mathematics and gymnastics. But Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt is considered to be the oldest university in the world. It was founded in Cairo in 969 CE. Zaitouna in Tunis, Tunisia, and Quaraouiyine in Fès, Morocco, were other Islamic centers of learning. China, too, had its schools. The emperor Wu-Ti (156 – 87 BCE) established a Confucian university for administrators.

What about the women of other European countries?

Denied the university freedom accorded Italian women, women of other countries had to have access to private tutors or be self-taught, something only the privileged few could afford. With the invention of movable type printing (1450 CE) books slowly became easier to obtain, and with books came increased literacy. In the Protestant churches women were encouraged to learn to read so they could read the scriptures. Nevertheless, many succumbed to the overwhelming pressure to behave as good and obedient wives and thus avoid education. The widespread witchcraft mania that strengthened through the 14th century kept many women and men too from seeking scholarly endeavors . Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642 CE) ran into his famous trouble with the Roman Catholic Church for his insistence that the Earth moved around the Sun. Nonetheless women continued to argue for the right to study. Despite the barriers women of conviction managed to pursue scientific careers.

They must have been extraordinarily brave women and men. Some struggled against prejudice; some against their church; some even against their fellow scholars. A few are listed below.

Margaret of Angoulême, (1492 – 1549) queen of Navarre (in Spain), was in constant correspondence with the learned philosophers of her day and did much to further the cause of the literary movement in France. She created a court whose interests were wide-ranging. Her patronage earned her the title “beloved mother of the Renaissance”.

A French contemporary of Anna Manzolini was Mlle. Bileron. She also fashioned models of the human body. So impressed was the prince royal of Sweden by her work that he saw when visiting Paris that he offered her a position in the royal University of Sweden. France also saw her first mining engineer in the Baroness de Beausoleil (died 1642). She was deeply concerned about the mineral resources of France and foresaw how they could contribute to the country’s finance. Mozans gives the full title of two of her works:

Véritable Déclaration de la Décourverte des Mines et Minières par le Moyen desquelles Sa Majesté et Sujets se peuvent passer des Pays Etrangers, Paris, 1632.

La Restitution de Pluton à Mgr. l’Eminent Card, de Richelieu, des Mines et Minières de France, caches jusqu’à present au Ventre di la Terre, par la Moyen desquelles les Finances de so Majesté seront beaucoup plus Grandes que celles de touts les Princes Chrestiens et ses Sujets plu Heureux de tous les Peuples. Paris, 1640.

She was imprisoned for witchcraft and died before her release, seemingly a victim of the widespread witchcraft mania.

Princess Anne, the sister of Denmark’s King Frederick (c. 1546, probably Frederick II) was a scholar and skilled alchemist.

Ana de Osorio (c. 1630) was the Countess of Chinchon, Spain. Historians are uncertain how quinine got to Europe, but tradition gives the credit to the Countess. While living in Lima, Peru she and her husband predictably came down with malaria. The Countess decided to try a local plant remedy and soon recovered. The plant contained quinine, the miracle anti-malaria drug. She brought the plant back to Spain with her where it quickly proved its worth. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778 CE) who developed the scheme for naming plants and animals with fancy Latin names (that we still use today) gave the genus name Chinchona to several species including the quinine plant in honor of the Countess.

Marie Meurdrac (c. 1666) working in her own private lab in France wrote what is probably the first book on chemistry by a woman for women – La Chimie Charitable et facile, en faveur des dames. In it she says that minds have no sex. A facsimile of the cover page of her book can be found on the web.

Minds have no sex! How interesting. It is well worth discussing. Just as the results of science have no gender, minds have no sex. She was writing about opportunities when she wrote that minds have no sex. She meant that if as much energy was devoted to women’s study as to men’s study then women would equal men in scholarship. Given the same opportunities, there is no reason for men and women to differ in the results of their scholarship. In other words, minds have no sex.

Especially well known in the annals of science is Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717), a natural historian. She studied the flora and fauna of her native Germany and then sailed to Surinam in equatorial South America to study the plant and animal life there. She returned home where she complied all her studies into a volume in folio still sought out for its beauty. Her 1705 Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium yielded both great beauty and an important scientific discovery. She was the first to record the life cycle of insects, from egg through larvae and pupa to adult. She was quite well regarded by her contemporaries. At that time, much natural history illustration was often more fancy than fact. Merian painted on the spot, and although there are errors in her work, they are far more accurate than most. They are also some of the most beautiful natural history illustrations ever produced. Today her prints cost many thousands of dollars. Copies of many of her prints can be viewed with a simple web search. The interdisciplinary Essen Collegium of Gender Studies of the University of Duisburg-Essen/Germany presents the Maria Sibylla Merian Award for outstanding female scientists for their significant contributions to the sciences – it acknowledges and honors the accomplishments of exceptional women scientists. The award is given to female scientists for their achievements in the following disciplines: natural and engineering science, economics and medicine or international outstanding scientists (m/f) of all disciplines who have researched in the area of civilization and gender. Members of all disciplines are invited to apply. Candidates should have a PhD as a prerequisite for application. There are no limitations on the maximum of experience level. The award is endowed with 7,500 Euro. It is sponsored by the Deutsche Telekom AG. An independent, interdisciplinary jury of experts judges and nominates the award winner.

Anna Maria von Schurmann (1607 – 1678 CE) learned a dozen languages (among them French, German, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syrian, Armenian, Ethiopian), obtained a law degree from Utrecht University, taught philosophy, astronomy, geography, and theology, painted and sculpted. She was one of the many women who corresponded with Descartes. She wrote a book on Ethiopian grammar, on gender-neutral intelligence and medicine – an all-around woman – and thought to be the finest scholar in Europe who was a women. She insisted on education for women and argued for their right to chose whatever subject they wanted to study.

Women continued to contribute in medicine even though they did not hold the scholarly degree. In 1628 William Harvey had published his work on the circulation of blood, something foreshadowed by Hildegard (Chapter 2). Marie Colinet (c. 1560 – c. 1640 CE) treated patients throughout Germany and in 1580 was the first to use a magnet to remove a sliver of metal from a patient’s eye. Two others were Isabelle Warwicke, an English surgeon (c. 1572 CE), and Dorothea Christiana Leporin Erxleben (1715 – 1762 CE) the first woman to receive a full MD from a German university (University of Halle). Hers was an exceptional case, however, and required the intervention of Frederick the Great to make it happen. She took her exams after the birth of her fourth child. Trained originally by her father, the town’s physician, she had been practicing as a physician, but without the MD, until she was accused of witchcraft. She replied: “Fine! Here's my dissertation. Let me defend it at the university. Let me take the exams.” Officials debated for a year over whether a woman, so often pregnant, could practice medicine. They finally allowed her to take the exams which she passed with flying colors. It was not until 1901 that another woman received an MD from the University of Halle.

During the Renaissance both men and women practiced medicine. Then from about the beginning of the 17th century through the late 19th century, women were either excluded or banished to such roles as attendant, assistant or nurse. Before 1700 just about all babies were delivered by midwives. After that time midwives still managed to practice their craft (despite the French ruling against their being MD’s). Margarita Fuss (died 1626 CE) was so famous and in demand that she was on call throughout Germany, Denmark, and Holland. Jane Sharp (c. 1671 CE) was a well known British midwife who wrote the very popular The Midwife’s Book (still available from Oxford University Press). Her contemporary Hester Shaw made up to £1,000 per delivery, an amazing amount of money even today. Maria Louise Dugès La Chapelle (1769 – 1821 CE) was a French midwife who studied in Heidelberg and then returned to France to organize a maternity and children’s hospital at Port Royal. The earlier works by Trotula (see Chapter 2) were superceded by the works of Louyse Bourgeois (1563 – 1636 CE), midwife to the queen of France. Elizabeth Cellier was a British midwife (born c. 1640) who became a militant advocate of the education of midwives. She was implicated in a counter plot to the “popish-plot” to murder Charles II and reestablish Catholicism as the religion of England. Arrested, she spent time in the notorious Newgate prison. Eventually acquitted, she returned to an active life. In 1687 she presented the king with a plan for a college for midwives. Marie Boivin (1773 – 1841 CE) was a midwife in France. She received an honorary MD from the University of Marburg. In 1814 the King of Prussia invested her with the Order of Merit. These women tended to be exceptions rather than the rule. Except in Italy the practice of medicine was slowly closed to women not to open again until the 19th century.


That is a good question to which I do not have the answer. As gynecology became more and more “scientific” in nature, thanks by the way to the work of women, it was usurped by men. It was argued that women lacked the strength and capacity to function as physicians. But if women were edged out of medicine they remained in other fields.

Sophia, Electress of Hanover (1630 – 1714 CE), corresponded with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (a co-inventor with Sir Isaac Newton of the calculus). Her daughter, Sophia Charlotte, queen of Prussia (1668 – 1705 CE) invited Leibniz to Berlin where he founded the Berlin Academy of Sciences. Marie le Jars de Gourney (c. 1597 CE) was a self-taught intellectual in France who corresponded with Montaigne (French Renaissance essayist) and ended up editing his essays after he died. Anne Bacon (1528 – 1610 CE) (mother of Sir Frances Bacon, an English scientist) translated many Latin texts into English.

The guild of printmaking, a highly skilled trade, also attracted women. Before Gutenberg developed movable type, Dominican sisters often did the laborious typesetting for books, as well, of course, producing the gloriously beautiful illuminations. In 1501 italic type was introduced in Italy. Just sixteen years later, in 1517, Caterina De Silvestro added italic type to the existing stock of gothic and roman type. Upon the death of her husband, a master printer and bookseller, Anna Giovanni, of Vincenza, not only ran the business but purchased a paper mill in 1593 (a very shrewd business move). Charlotte Guillard (16th century CE) was the first well-known printer who was a woman. She was the widow and wife of two French printers, Rembolt and Chevalon. After the death of her first husband in 1519 she took over management of the print shop and the proofreading of the Latin publications and taught printing to her second husband. Her works were recognized for their beauty and accuracy. Among the publications she printed were a Latin Bible, Erasmus's Testament, and the works of the Fathers. A two volume Works of St. Gregory is said to contain only three typographical errors. The scholar Bogard started to write a Greek lexicon. After his death, it was completed and printed by Charlotte Guillard. Like the rest of her publications, it was noted for its elegance and accuracy. Her printer’s mark was a fancy circle with her initials inside.

So these women did indeed stay current with the natural philosophy of their day. They corresponded with the great minds of their time. They did as Hypatia did although many of them did not teach but participated from the sidelines of science by providing sustenance, understanding, and space for the male scholars of their day.

Archeology in the limited sense is a new science, but the art of collecting rare treasures goes back to the Renaissance and before. As with many other sciences, Italian women led the way. Women like Elizabetta Gonzaga (1471 – 1526 CE) Duchess of Urbino, and Isabella d’Este (1474 – 1539 CE), Marchioness of Mantua, collected not only antiques in bronze and marble but also rare books and manuscripts in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

Moving to the field of astronomy/mathematics, we now come to Marie Cunitz (1610 – 1664 CE) an astronomer – a woman who watched the skies. Her father educated her at home where she studied languages, classics, science, and the arts. Then she married a physician and amateur astronomer. Before long she was the primary astronomer in the family. At thirty she published a set of astronomical tables. In them she translated Kepler’s rather esoteric Latin writings and simplified his method for calculating the positions of planets by omitting the use of his complicated logarithms. The picture on the next page shows the cover page of that book. It was an important book, and it went through many editions. In later editions her husband had to write a preface saying it was all her own work. It was so useful that readers assumed he'd written it for her.

Cuniz's troubles didn't end with her death. The 18th century in Germany was not very hospitable to women. Astronomers of the so-called Enlightenment period couldn't digest her. Forty years after her death, one complained that “she was so deeply engaged in astronomical speculation that she neglected her household.” The woman once called the second Hypatia was demoted to second class status.

Kepler worked for Tycho Brahe, a famous Danish astronomer, known for his precise observational data. Tycho’s sister Sophia Brahe (1556 – 1643 CE), trained by her brother as an astronomer, also became a physician and treated patients who came to her brother’s observatory. It is said that when “Denmark remembers her Tycho she should not forget the noble woman, his sister who in spirit was more than blood. That shining star in the Danish sky is indeed a double-star.”

Cover page to the work by Marie Cunitz

Astronomy was the science of choice for other women including Maria Margarthe Kirch (1620 – 1720 CE). She married a Berlin astronomer, Gottfried Kirch. In 1702, as his assistant in observations and calculations she was fortunate enough to discover a comet. Unfortunately custom was not followed in this case; the comet was not named for her. Her husband died in 1710, but she continued to produce astronomical studies including a work on the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 1714. Her daughters continued the astronomical work after her death, and they calculated for the Berlin Academy of Sciences its Almanac and Ephemeris . These books were sources of income for that body. One finds a number of women in astronomical families. The two sisters of the director of the Bologna Observatory collaborated with him in the preparation of the Ephemeris of Bologna.

Far away in Mexico we find Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648 – 1695 CE), a nun in Mexico City, who was a scholar of the court and an astronomer. She is still honored today for her poetry and perhaps is the greatest poet of the American continent of the 17th century. She wrote several secular plays as well. By the age of nine she had mastered Latin. Her personal library had over 4,000 volumes along with many scientific instruments. Dartmouth College has a project underway to present all her works. She believed in the sciences and saw in them no conflict with religion: The image on the left is adapted from http://www.edwardsly.com/ines.htm

“It seems to me debilitating for a Catholic not to know everything in this life of the Divine Mysteries that can be learned through natural means.”

When publicly reprimanded by the Bishop of Mexico City for studying and writing, she bravely answered back in a written document that still exists:

“Science and knowledge will strengthen faith in God, not weaken it.”

Elizabeth (born c. 1647 CE), the wife of the Polish astronomer Hevilius (1611 – 1687 CE), collaborated with him on most of his work and who, after his death, edited and published their joint work, the Prodromus Astronomia, a catalog of 1,564 stars. An engraving from their Uranographicarum star atlas is shown on the left. It represents the constellation of Aquarius (with thanks to the Space Telescope Science Institute and the United States Naval Observatory).

Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689 CE) was a British playwright, novelist, and translator of a work on astronomy: A Discovery of New Worlds (Entretiens sur la pluraité des mondes by de Fontenelle) published in 1686. She was perhaps the first woman in England to earn her living by writing. She is buried in Westminster Abby.

Maria Kirch Winkelmann (1670 – 1720 CE) was a German astronomer. She worked with her husband assisting him in his astronomical work. She discovered a comet in 1702. Discovering comets was a big deal in these days. They were considered important and unique objects. Computing their orbits was a laborious and difficult task. In the 21st century most comets are found by space probes or by amateur astronomers scanning the skies with their telescopes.

By this time the works of Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727 CE) were making their way through the scholarly world. He codified the law of gravity and showed that it applied to objects not on the Earth (like the Moon) as well as the objects on the Earth – that law of universal gravitation foreshadowed by Hildegard (Chapter 2).

Emilie, Marquise du Châtelet (1706 – 1749 CE) was another astronomer-mathematician. She translated Newton’s Principia into French (c. 1759 CE) thus making his work accessible to her country. It remains the only French translation. She maintained an enduring relationship with Voltaire. He wrote of her that “two wonders have been performed: one that Newton was able to write this work, the other that a woman could translate and explain it”. Her views on the vis viva (momentum) opposed those of Newton. Hers proved to be correct. Other French astronomers are Mme du Pierry, the first women appointed to a professorship at the Paris Observatory (c. 1786 CE), and Mme. Hortense Lepaute (1723 – 1788), the wife of the royal clockmaker of France. Mme. Lepaute was hired by Lalande (the Director of the Paris Observatory) to assist him in preparing the orbit of Halley’s Comet, due to return in 1759. Such work required prodigious amount of computation, especially to determine the gravitational effect of Jupiter and Saturn on the Comet's orbit. She also calculated the conditions for the eclipses of 1762 and 1764 for the whole of Europe and published a chart showing the path for every quarter of an hour. She went on to publish other works and continued to work at the Paris Observatory until poor eyesight forced her to stop. She produced the table of the number of oscillations per unit time of pendulums of various lengths for the book that was published under her husband's name, Traite d'horlogerie. The beautiful rose Hortensia is named for her (shown below).

Mme. du Pierry carried on Lepaute’s work and computed tables for the lengths of day and night, and tables of refraction for the latitude of Paris.

These tables and catalogs were crucial for the development of modern astronomy. Each one contributed its part to a growing body of work that culminated in such great catalogs as the guide star catalog that steered the Hubble Space Telescope. Almost every satellite carries aboard a star catalog to orient its way around the sky.


Jeanne Dumée (died 1706 CE) was another French astronomer who tried by her own example to convince men and women that there was no difference in their brains. Her manuscript written in 1680 is still in the National Library of Paris.

She was another woman who believed minds have no sex.

Margaret Cavendish (1623 – 1673 CE) was the Duchess of Newcastle and author of The Blazing World in which the heroine makes a round trip of the Moon and planets and thus qualifies as the first fictional female space traveler. She was a colorful figure and a prolific and popular author. The diarist Samuel Pepys described her less kindly as “mad, conceited and ridiculous.” She published under her own name — a radical and deliberate infringement of contemporary proprieties — a huge body of work encompassing historical treatises, essays, poems, plays, and autobiography.

Marguertie de la Sabliere (c. 1640 – 1693 CE) was a friend and patron of La Fontaine, the poet. She received an excellent education in Latin, mathematics, physics, and anatomy from the best scholars of her time, and she typifies the learned French lady of letters and patron of scholars.

An outstanding scholar of these times was Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 – 1791 CE) known as “The Oracle of the Seven Tongues”. By the time she was nine she read, wrote and spoke seven languages. At thirty she produced a text on mathematics “Le Instituzioni Analitiche” that earned her the chair of higher mathematics at the University of Bologna, a position she refused preferring to retire to her home and feed the poor. She also produced the solution to a curve heretofore unsolved – still called “the curve of the witch of Agnesi” and found in basic algebra textbooks. They certainly did not think she was a witch. The term comes from a mistranslation of the Italian for “to curve”. Aversiera is old Italian for the verb “to curve”. This is very close to avversiera, a word cognate with adversary (i.e. witch).

y = a3/(x2+a2)

is the curve she solved, easy for today’s computers; extremely difficult in the 1700’s. The French Academy of Sciences would not admit a woman to its august ranks, but M. Motigny, one of the committee appointed by the Academy to report on the work said:

“Permit me, Mademoiselle, to unite my personal homage to the plaudits of the entire Academy. I have the pleasure of making known to my country an extremely useful work which has long been desired, and which has hitherto existed only in outline. I do not know any work of this kind which is clearer, more methodic, or more comprehensive than your Analytical Institutions. There is none in any language which can guide more surely, lead more quickly, and conduct further those who wish to advance in the mathematical sciences. I admire particularly the art with which you bring under uniform methods the divers conclusions scattered among the works of geometers and reached by methods entirely different.”

The book made its way into French and English translations. Maria was honored by kings, queens, and popes but steadfastly refused to leave her home in Milan.

Solving a curve may not sound like much. What counted as success in science and technology varies from century to century. I cannot omit women from the story simply because they would not make the list in the 21st century. For example, to compute the orbit of a comet or solve a curve took great skill before we had computers to do the job for us.
The curve of the Witch of Agnesi.

We must judge them according to the standards of their own time and place.

There is something that encompasses not only the 21st century but also all the centuries before it. Successful science works repeatedly. The results from science can be tested, repeated and used by others. Successful science works; when the model doesn’t work, scientists begin anew to find one that does. Over and over they repeat their attempts until something, even if only the smallest of somethings, works. Small something by small something, the rewards from science accumulate and grow into ever more useful solutions for human problems.

Even in the far flung colonies of the Americas women were contributing. They were an inventive lot. In 1715 Sir Thomas Masters of the Colonies was awarded British patent #401 for an invention by his wife Sybilla (died 1720 CE) (he got her name on the patent!) for a method of curing Indian corn. It used hammers instead of gears to grind the corn. He built the device, made money, and became the mayor of Philadelphia. The patent was issued by George I:

“Letters patent to Thomas Masters, of Pennsylvania, Planter, his Execrs., Amrs. and Assignees, of the sole Vse and Benefit of A new Invention found out by Sybilla, his wife, for cleaning and curing the Indian Corn, growing in the several Colonies of America, within England, Wales, and Town of Berwick upon Tweed, and the Colonies of America.”

Eliza Luca Pinckney (1723 – 1788 CE) developed techniques for indigo cultivation in the early plantation days in the Carolinas. She raised her daughters to read Latin and Greek.

Inventors were not limited to the United States. During the time spanning 1631 – 1648 one of the most beautiful buildings in the world was built – the Taj Mahal – to hold the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. Her maternal aunt Nur Mahal was an inventor. She invented the perfume base called attar of roses – still used in perfumes today. She also invented a method for weaving wool into luxurious cashmere.

I end this part of the journey with Bathsua Reginald Makin (1600 – c. 1675 CE) who was fluent in at least seven languages, English, Latin, Greek, French, Syriac, Spanish, and German. She taught languages in her father’s school. She became a tutor to the young Princess Elizabeth of England. She is perhaps remembered best for her essay: An essay to revive the ancient education of gentlewomen (1673), a polemic on the education of women citing why education has served them and their country well. Women were still fighting for their right to an education!

As I mentioned before, in general, scholarly pursuits were the peculiar right of the aristocracy. The bourgeoisie did not have the same educational advantage. And with time came the destruction of many of the great convent schools. First they lost their lands and then their independence, and finally the claims to privileges and powers now reserved strictly for men. The nuns were forbidden to teach. At universities outside of Italy the right to study came only with ordination in the Church, a state reserved solely for men. The status of women, outside of Italy, dropped significantly from its level at the height of the 7th – 11th centuries.

It seems that women lost rights despite the wonderful shining exceptions. Slowly over time we lost rights. Hopefully we shall see improvements, and Marie Meurdrac’s belief that minds have no sex will come to full flower.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chapter 2

“…such beautiful minds…”

Let us leave behind the early scientists like the honored Hypatia and En’Hedu’anna and travel forward in time through the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. I want to share some stories of the women who persisted and succeeded by following her shining example.

In imperial Rome women could be seen carrying copies of Plato’s Republic because it touted education for women. In general the status of women in ancient Rome was a bit better than their sisters’ status in ancient Greece. It was not unusual for a young girl of plebian parentage to attend elementary school. Upper class men and women had private tutors. Among the attributes of a good wife was her ability to converse intelligently on philosophy and geometry although the true bluestocking (scholar) was probably rare. And, as happened in Greece, many women were known as worthy poets and orators. All over the empire of Rome women of wealth and influence functioned as benefactors and participants in the public world. For example, in the 4th century the young woman Eustochium edited Jerome’s translation of the Bible, the future Latin Vulgate .

In 337 CE the Roman Empire was split among the three sons of Constantine into eastern, western, and central. In 475 CE Romulus Augustus became the last of the western Roman emperors. He abdicated a year later, and the western Roman empire came to an end. Yet the barbarians who conquered Rome were not slothful scholars. The daughter of the first Ostrogothic king of Rome (Theordoric the Great), Amalsuntha (498 – 535 CE), could converse in Latin, Greek and Gothic. She ruled the Ostrogothic (Roman) empire when her father suddenly died. An ivory representation of Amalsuntha is shown on the left. In 535 CE her cousin usurped the throne and had her killed. Less than two years later the Byzantine emperor Justinian invaded Italy to avenge her death, ending the Ostrogothic rule in Italy. He also closed the hundreds of years old school of philosophy in Athens – the wonderful Academy of Plato founded in 387 BCE. Many of the professors went to Persia and Syria. But it was a loss to scholarship.

Despite the loss of the Academy of Plato and despite the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, the wisdom of women and men lit with rare, flickering candles of scholarship the Dark Ages that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

As always, women kept their medical tradition alive even in those Dark Ages. For example, in Constantinople medicine (and philosophy) gave us the physician Nicerata. Jumping ahead a bit – seven hundred years later, interestingly, one of the best equipped hospitals of the time was built in Constantinople by Emperor John II (1118 – 1143 CE). Men and women were housed in separate buildings, each containing ten wards of fifty beds, with one ward reserved for surgical cases and another for long-term patients. The staff was a team of twelve male doctors and one fully qualified female doctor as well as a female surgeon. I don’t know their names but they existed. It was not the first large hospital in the area though. In 1096, the first Crusade bought a need for expanded medical facilities in Constantinople. The emperor Alexius built a 10,000 bed hospital/orphanage managed by his daughter Anna Comena. She had been well trained by tutors in astronomy, medicine, history, military affairs, history, geography, and math. Running a hospital must have been easy for her. She also wrote a history of her father’s life. Called the Alexiad this document forms a primary resource for the first Crusade.

Italian women continued to contribute to medicine. The first Western type university was founded in Salerno, Italy in 875 CE as a medical school. And from that time to this, for over a thousand years, women equally with men have been welcome at the doors of Italian universities. So it is not remarkable that there were so many talented Italian women. As early as 1292 there were in Paris no less than eight physicians who were women although they were not quite the scholars their Italian sisters were. Jacobina Félicie (c. 1322 CE) was born in Florence and worked in Paris as a physician. She ultimately lost her battle to practice medicine thus setting a precedent against women attending medical school in France unbroken until the 1800’s. A number of the Italians are listed in this paragraph. Trotula lived in the 11th century and held a chair in the school of medicine at the University of Salerno. The Regimen sanitatis salernitatum contained many contributions from her work and was widely used well into the 16th century. She promoted cleanliness, a balanced diet, exercise, and avoidance of stress – a very modern combination. Salerno was home to other women of medicine including Abella, Rebecca de Guarna, Margaritan, and Mercuriade (all 14th century CE). Among those who held diplomas for surgery were Maria Incarnata of Naples and Thomasia de Mattio of Castro Isiae. Alessandra Giliana (c. 1318 CE) was an anatomist at the University of Bologna. Dorotea Bucca (1360 – 1436 CE) held a chair of medicine at the University of Bologna. Laura Ceretta (1469 – 1488 CE) gave public lectures on philosophy. Battista Malatesta (1383 – 1450 CE) of Urbino taught philosophy as well. Calrice di Durisio (15th century CE) was a surgeon who specialized in diseases of the eye.

That is one thousand years at a gulp. Let me back up and travel a bit more slowly.

The major religions tended to claim separate parts of the known world. Christianity spread throughout western Europe after 313 CE when Constantine’s Edit of Milan proclaimed it tolerated throughout the Roman Empire. Islam became strong in Western Asia after 622 CE (the Hegira of Mohammed). In 732 CE at Tours, France, Charles Martel stopped the expansion of Islam into western Europe. The works of Confucius dominated in China. The Buddhists grew more numerous and spread out from India to China and beyond.

Looking at the Far East, a queen of Korea, Sonduk (c. 630 CE), built astronomical observatories. One of her observatories called the Tower of the Sun and Moon stood until the 20th century. Chinese women were inventive. Around 577 CE the first version of matches were invented by the women of the northern Ch’i province in China. They were under siege and needed to start fires for cooking. Moving to the Middle East, during the 13th century over 100 women taught at levels equivalent to a professorship at Dervis monasteries (Turkey) in the Islamic world. Names of two such teachers are Fatima-bint’Abbas and Zeynep. But other than those small bits of information I know very little about the Middle and Far East and Africa.

So this is a limited story, limited by my ignorance. I believe there are wonderful women to find in those other cultures.

Coming back to the decline of Rome, as the Dark Ages drew across Europe centers of learning, abbeys and convents usually associated with the expanding Christian church were built. For example, in France, Queen Radegund (518 – 587 CE) forsook her royal state and founded an abbey for women at Poitiers, France. She was quite interested in medicine and had the quite radical notion of washing the patient clean! For the following several hundred years such abbeys were the refuge of women who wished to follow a separate way filled often with scholarship as well as prayer.

By 800 CE many Christian monasteries, abbeys, and convents existed for the devout woman of the Western world. These places became great settlements that encouraged scholarship as well as piety. The abbey women, along with their male counterparts, copied and recopied the studious works of the day as well as the rare literature of the past, maintaining them for Western posterity. Many of the women were illustrators as well as copiers of manuscripts. These illuminations on the manuscripts were things of outstanding beauty.

By joining one of these great settlements women could be free of the intellectual restrictions put on their sex by the secular world. From the 7th to the 11th centuries abbesses held the same power as their male counterparts, in both the secular as well as the religious realm. The larger religious settlements usually owned the surrounding lands as well as actual convent buildings. The abbesses had the right to attend ecclesiastical synods and assist in the deliberations of national assemblies. Some even had the right to coin money and raise armies. To put this into 21st century terms, the career opportunities for some women during this time were perhaps greater than they are today. A bold statement, but worth considering.

This illumination is adapted from Hildegardis Bingensis. Liber Divinorvm Opervm. Ed. A. Derolez and Peter Dronke. Turnout: Brepols, 1996.

Often the convents and abbeys would conduct schools to which privileged children, both female and male, came. Literacy in these days meant reading and writing in Latin and sometimes Greek and Hebrew. Ida (c. 570 CE) of Ireland founded a community of nuns who taught a school for small boys including the future missionary, St. Brendan, also known as Brendan the Voyager. Abbess Aelfthrith (c. 694 CE) built Repton in Derbyshire, England into a center for education. Abbess Hilda (616 – 680 CE) made Whitby, England, a settlement of men and women, into a center of learning. As chief educator she taught theology, grammar, music, the arts, and medicine. During the 7th and 8th centuries there were over thirty English abbesses who ran monasteries. An English nun, Leoba (died 779 CE), because of her learned reputation, was sought out by other church leaders for advice. Around 733 CE, her cousin Boniface asked her to help him in his church building efforts in Germany. She agreed and was appointed abbess at Bishofscheim in Germany. For forty years she taught the young nuns there and was sought by many for her wisdom and knowledge. She was friend and counselor to Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne. Women’s contributions lasted for over eight hundred years. Around 1290 CE Claranna von Hohenburg, a Swiss nun, was said to be advanced in scientific knowledge.

One woman, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c. 930 – c. 990 CE) in Saxony wrote verse, history, and the only dramas composed in Europe from the 4th to the 11th centuries. She was allowed her own court, the right to coin money, and to sit at meetings of the Diet – the ruling body. She is usually known by the Saxon equivalent of her self-styled pen name, Hroswitha: hroth meaning ‘sound’ and swith meaning ‘loud’ or ‘strong’ – she who makes a strong sound.

Towards the end of the Dark Ages the Islamic world surpassed the Western world in its access to technical literature. One can easily find information about male Islamic mathematicians and scholars. I know of no technical Islamic women from those times. There may be, indeed, many women to include, but I have no information on them.

The Dark Ages gave way to the Middle Ages as social structures swirled about, settling into new patterns. Feudal Europe became a centuries old war-torn land as rulers continued to fight over boundaries and land rights. At the same time, Europeans attempted to retake control of Jerusalem. The crusades to Palestine forced open cultural doors long closed. Genghis Khan (1155 – 1227 CE) united the Mongols and swept across the steppes and destroyed ancient centers of civilization in eastern Europe. Less than a century later, Marco Polo (1254 – 1354 CE) reached China continuing to open cultural doors.

Women continued to contribute their scholarship despite the shifting sands beneath their feet. Herrad of Landsberg (1125 – 1195 CE) was abbess of the convent of Ste Odile in Hohenbourg and compiler-illuminator of the Hortus Deliciarum (The Garden of Delights). This large folio consisted of 324 pages and 636 miniature illustrations that depicted biblical scenes and allegorical figures. In it there are over a thousand texts by different authors on different subjects including poems by Herrad herself – a compendium of medieval learning of the knowledge and history of the world intended for the women in her convent. This encyclopedic work covered biblical, moral and theological material.

The seven liberal arts adapted from the Hortus Deliciarum.

One truly shining light stands out from the rest – that of Hildegard of Bingen-am-Rhein (1098 – 1179 CE). One of our rare true geniuses, she was a mystic who wrote volumes of text, composed music, painted, and ran her convent. A web search on her name will turn up over a million hits.

She was sent to the convent as a young child. While there she wrote in her journal speaking of her nurse

“This wonderful woman who had guided me in observing the range of positions of the rising and setting Sun, who had had me mark with a crayon on a wall the time and place where the warming sunlight first appeared in the morning and finally disappeared each and every day of my eleventh year.”

This is the mark of the true scientist.

Her first visionary work was Scivias ("Know the Ways of the Lord"). She wrote the music and play Ordo Virtutum (Play of Virtues). She also wrote Liber vitae meritorum (1150 – 63 CE) (Book of Life's Merits) and Liber divinorum operum (1163 CE) (Book of Divine Works).. She also authored Physica and Causae et Curae (1150 CE), both works on natural history and curative powers of various natural objects, which are together known as Liber subtilatum (The book of subtleties of the Diverse Nature of Things). Physica was actually nine books treating minerals, plants, fishes, birds, insects, and quadrupeds. The book on plants has no fewer than two hundred and thirty chapters. Kass-Simon and Farnes have an excellent description of her natural history work in their book Women of Science Righting the Record .

Her music has been recorded on several CDs. She wrote eerily beautiful Gregorian chants, some so enthralling that it is said that people would faint upon hearing her music. She expanded plainchant (a unison chant, originally unaccompanied) a bit beyond the basic intricacies of Gregorian Chant even though she had no formal music training.

She is honored by nurses as the founder of holistic medicine, and delightfully mixed a wonderful common sense with her healing. Here is her recipe for spice cookies (modernized).

“Eat them often,” she says, “and they will calm every bitterness of heart and mind - and your hearing and senses will open. Your mind will be joyous, and your senses purified, and harmful humours will diminish.”

3/4 cup butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks), 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ground cloves. Mix, form walnut sized balls, and bake for 10-15 minutes.

She wrote that

“The stars gravitate around the Sun just as the Earth attracts the creatures which inhabit it”

This is the concept of universal gravitation as we know it now, long before it became a standard part of mathematics (five hundred years later by Sir Isaac Newton). She also wrote

“If it is cold in winter time on the part of the Earth which we inhabit, then the other part must be warm, in order that the temperature of the Earth may always be in equilibrium”

adapted from Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia Harmonie Celestium Revelationum, published in modern facsimile by Alamire, POB 45, 3990 Peer, Belgium

This shows a remarkable sense of the synergy of the Earth. Today we call this point of view thermodynamics. And forecasting Harvey’s theory of blood movement through the body as well as the concept of universal gravitation she wrote:

“Stars are not immovable but transverse the universe in a manner similar to blood moving through the body.”

My favorite quote is about her belief in the healing power of gems.

“A precious gem will heal the body if taken to bed. And a diamond held in the mouth of a liar or scold would cure any spiritual defects.”

Definitely something worth following up.

Hildegard was a special woman, talented in many, many fields. She corresponded widely with the learned men and women of the day and was highly sought after for advice. She was brave in her writings. There is a letter from her to Pope Anastasius IV that begins

“So it is, O man, that you who sit in the chief seat of the Lord, hold him in contempt when you embrace evil …”

She was one of the shining lights of the early Middle Ages. Her books were instant “bestsellers”.

Another of her beautiful illuminations is shown above.

During this time Italy continued its unique tradition of allowing women in the university. In 1236 CE Bettina Gozzadini was appointed to the Chair of Law at the University of Bologna. A century later Novella d’Andrea frequently substituted for her father, a professor of law at the same university. But more about Italy later.

As we move forward in time we find a few women who worked in traditional male occupations. Fya upper Bach was a 14th century blacksmith in Siberg, Germany. Twice in her career she held office in the local blacksmiths’ guild. Mary Sidney Herbert (1561 – 1621 CE), Countess of Pembroke, was quite a learned lady. She was known for her chemistry as well as her poems. One of the leading male chemists of the day – Adrian Gilbert – called her a chemist of note. Women were inventors too. Isabella Cunio (13th century CE) may have been the co-inventor with her brother of woodblock engraving.

It is extremely difficult to find names from the far East and India during this time. Did women of scholarship exist? I think so, but their names are deep in untranslated documents. Two names only have I found. One is the daughter of the Indian mathematician Bhasharacharya (1114 – 1185 CE). He did many important things in astronomy and mathematics including resolving a problem with the number zero. He was the first to note that division by zero did not give zero; it resulted in infinity. He wrote several texts on math, one of which he named after his daughter Leelavati (“Beautiful”). The book was used to teach her algebra. She was also an excellent mathematician. In 1816 this book was translated into English. The other is Raziya. Shortly after Leelavati lived, Raziya became the first Muslim lady to rule a Moslem state – she was Sultana of Delhi in 1236 CE and very well educated.

I shall end this chapter with a note about a woman who was not a scientist but was perhaps the first woman in Europe to earn her living through her writing – Christian de Pisan (1363 – 1429 CE) . Widowed at twenty-five with a large family to support she took the bold step of going her own way. She wrote at least twelve books and ten works in verse, including what is perhaps the first history of women in the European world – The Book of the City of Ladies. This is a fascinating book that combines legend with reality in a sweeping allegory of a city of ladies. Her works are still studied today. I found a tidbit in this book that continues to enchant me. It is a puzzling statement about the education of women.

“God has given them such beautiful minds to apply themselves, if they want to, in any of the fields where glorious and excellent men are active, which are neither more nor less accessible to them as compared to men if they wished to study them, and they can thereby acquire a lasting name…”

Did she mean that women had the same opportunities as men in the 14th century? I don’t know. It is fascinating to speculate. Nonetheless it is always true that most women and men were scrabbling for mere existence in these centuries.

The times leading to the Renaissance were times of extreme change in social customs. The black death decimated whole towns bringing cultural change with it because the plague upset the social order (especially in the 14th century, see next chapter). It was a struggle just to survive for the vast majority of people. Slowly, the Roman Catholic Church solidified its beliefs, and over time the stultifying religious view of women’s inferiority overcame the freeing winds of the convent. The Christian church consolidated its power becoming the major claimant in most peoples’ lives. Church fathers wrote polemics against women, especially women scholars. The great convents were destroyed or shut down. The profits of centuries of learning and effort were snatched away. Men shut down the convents, destroyed the manuscripts, took the money and lands and created new universities on the ashes. The great witchcraft mania began, not to end until the 18th century. Until the 14th century men and women of the feudal nobility received approximately the same elementary education. With the rise of the university system in Europe that custom declined. Where religion once supported women in scholarship, it now denied them access. One had to be a member of the clergy to attend the university, and women were denied that right.

Despite Christian de Pisan’s statement that women have such beautiful minds, rights for women declined with one large exception. Let us travel a bit further along in time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

chapter 1


"What I have done here no one has done before"

In 400 CE in Alexandria, Egypt there existed one of the world’s rare treasures: the Great Library, founded by Ptolemy II (285-246 BCE) of Egypt. It was the center of scholarship for the entire Mediterranean world. Scholars from the entire area came there to study and to teach. The library grew in size and reputation through the gathering of the literary works until it became the collective brain of the Mediterranean. This was often rigorously enforced by the taking of books from ships as they docked in the harbor and delivering them to the Library. The best minds came there to study medicine, biology, astronomy, mathematics, literature, and geography. Typically, scholars could only bring texts into the Library. They could not remove the books themselves, only copies. Tradition says it held upwards of half a million texts. Thus the Library grew in reputation and scholarship through the centuries. The original texts of most of the Mediterranean world’s literature were held there. A citizen of Alexandria was not only a citizen of a great city but also a citizen of the known world. The Library was eventually destroyed, not once but many times. Many philosophers and teachers worked there, including the philosopher/mathematician Hypatia (c. 355 – 415 CE), pronounced Hip-ah-ti’-a. When she was 19 years old a mob of Christians tried to destroy it. But it survived a little longer before its final destruction, ending a glorious tradition of scholarship.

We are on a search for scientists. A scientist is someone who studies the natural world, how it operates, moves and changes. It actually comes from a Latin word, scientia . Hypatia, though, would call herself a natural philosopher not a scientist. The word ‘scientist’ was coined apparently in 1840 CE by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Hypatia was not the earliest woman of science, technology and invention. We shall meet that lady a bit later. Hypatia is, perhaps, one of the more well known which is why I start with her. She lived and taught at the Great Library. During the time of Hypatia it was still a center of scholarship but soon it was to be destroyed completely.

Hypatia was an astronomer, mathematician, philosopher, and head of the school of neo-Platonic philosophy, an amazing suite of talents for anyone. She wrote at least three ‘books’, none of which survive: a treatise on the Conics of Apollonius, a Commentary on the Arithmetic of Deophantus, and an Astronomical Canon. The first two were expositions of rather difficult mathematics, the third probably an exposition of planetary positions. It may be that a fourth commentary of hers did survive – her commentary on Ptolemy’s Handy Table , although this is uncertain. She designed many tools of her trade including an astrolabe, a planisphere, and a method for distilling water. She corresponded with people all over the Mediterranean and letters addressed to “the Philosopher” were delivered to her. We know a little about her from her letters sent to others. It may be that she studied for awhile in Athens at the neo-Platonic school conducted by Plutarch the Younger and his daughter Asclepigenia, although this is speculation. As the leading philosopher in the city, officials who assumed public responsibility would call upon her. Everyone who wanted to study philosophy flocked to her from all directions. Much was made of her beauty and eloquence. She wore the modest tribon — a coarse workaday garment worn by the poor, ascetics, and philosophers.

“All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting person as final.”

“Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths, and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth – often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”

These are quotes from her. These words and others led to her eventual downfall. In her time Alexandria was controlled by Rome. The growing Christian church was consolidating its power and wanted to eradicate pagan influence. Hypatia stood at the center of the grave forces warring in Alexandria, and her words sparked the anger of the Bishop of the city – Cyril. Tradition tells us that a mob dragged her from her chariot one day and armed with broken bits of pottery peeled her skin from her bones, scattering them to the winds and then burning her body.

A tragic ending for a brilliant woman. Did her sacrifice end such persecution of women who dared to think? While her death occurred some 1500 years ago, I must note that meteorologist Dr. Ginous Mahmoudi was executed by firing squad on December 17th 1981 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for expressing her minority faith and being a woman of science.

Despite the dangers there were, and still are, many women who try the noble calling of science. Are you surprised? Even in the 21st century there are those who think women and science are not suited for each other. There are people who claim that the brains of women are not suited for mathematics. The current president of one our leading universities said that innate differences in sex may explain why there are so few women in science and mathematics.

Well, are there so few women of scholarship?

The answer is a resounding no! There are many, many thousands. I am one of them. But the women are mostly missing from the record. If we look in the history books we rarely find them. When asked to name a woman of science, the typical person can think of only one – Marie Curie. Dr. Gerda Lerner said in her address as the incoming president of the Organization of American Historians .

"…All women have in common that their history comes to them refracted through the lens of men’s observations and refracted again through a male-centered value system…. From that time on [the beginning of written history] women were educationally deprived and did not significantly participate in the creation of the symbol system by which the world was explained and ordered. Women did not name themselves; they did not, after the Neolithic era, name gods or shape them in their image…. If the bringing of women - half the human race - into the center of historical inquiry poses a formidable challenge to historical scholarship, it also offers sustaining energy and a source of strength."

Women hold up half the sky. They are half the human race. Yet, although things are improving, the notion that technical excellence is ‘not for girls’ (or minorities) persists. It is vital that we know what women have done, how they have contributed. We need to get them back into the history books, back into the center of inquiry, so we can draw on their strength as much as we draw upon the other half of the human race – the males.

Science and technology are innately diverse. The results of science have no gender. We need role models that highlight and celebrate this diversity. When the role models are plentiful (as they are) then that university president will know better than to state that innate differences in sex limit women in science and technology.

We all know that natural philosophy is an adventure, a trip that uncovers beauty everywhere with every new thing understood. Everyone deserves to share in this excitement and personal fulfillment. The results of science have no gender.

That is worth repeating. The results of science have no gender. We cannot back out of some invention, theory, or solution whether the originator was female or male.

Given that the results of science have no gender, what are the attributes of these scientists?

The attributes of the scientist are intelligence (the ability to combine information quickly, organize thoughts and coordinate actions to achieve results), doubt (the ability to question), luck (the ability to take quick advantage of an opportunity), sweat (the ability to work hard), and courage (the ability to maintain a clarity of thought despite opposition). Women have courage aplenty. Women share the common intelligence of humanity. They are superlative doubters. The sweat of their bodies waters all the monuments of the world. Many have shared luck with their male brethren. We need to celebrate these women along with the men and raise them all to be heroes.

Scientists have those attributes in common with each other. They share the attributes of intelligence, doubt, luck, sweat, and courage. The scientist often is in the right place at the right time; i.e., is lucky. The scientist absorbs as much education as possible. It is the education that provides the grist for the mind to use any luck it encounters. The scientist has a nimble and adaptable mind, well-equipped to doubt. And finally, a scientist works hard - very, very hard. Most of the effort is repetitive. The excitement is exquisite and rare, and when it comes, it is the deepest joy and greatest wonder - all the labor is worth those few ecstatic moments. When I first discover something, even a tiny something, it is the most exciting thing there is. Both women and men share these attributes. There is no gender lurking in this definition. None.

Understanding science will only strengthen our life, our work and our world. We want solutions to our problems. Solutions come from questions, research, thought and technology. For as long as we have been human we have developed and thought about science. For as long as we have been human we have looked forward to the next challenge, the next goal, and the next creative thought.

What makes us human? Many things do, and one of them is our ability to affect and predict our environment. I call this science - the definition of structure for our world - technology - the use of structure in our world - and mathematics - the common language of structure - science, technology, and mathematics, all have been part of our human progress, through every step of our path to the present. Women and men together have researched and solved each emerging need. Women and men together have defined the advancing path of this fundamental human activity. Women and men together have eased the burden for all of us. Women and men together have sought out this great joy – to be the first to see something new in the world. That excitement reaches the deepest part of our souls. To think is just about the greatest ‘turn-on’ that exists. It is irresistibly compelling.

Hypatia herself said:

“Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all”.

That explains how important this search for women of science is. Where do we start?

We start with the world’s earliest literature. The name of an appropriate woman appears in some of world's earliest literature - over 4,000 years ago . Science has been the business of women ever since then. Certainly, though, women were questioners and thinkers long before that. Most myths, religions, and history place the beginnings of agriculture, laws, civilization, mathematics, calendars, time keeping and medicine into the hands of women. And the mythology is so very rich. The stories form our common wealth. But whether it was the Goddess of Wisdom or War or Love she was lost to the historical record yet kept strong in the dreams and myths of all peoples.

The Western world owes much of its world view to a thick thread of scholarship that goes back to ancient Greece and earlier. Women belong in that thread. However, filtered through modern eyes, it is still an open question whether women held high social status in that ancient world. We just don’t know. The poet Hesiod (7th century BCE) in his genealogy of the gods tells of the generations of gods first predominately female and then predominately male. Other scarce records of the Near East put female gods at the head of a complicated religious pantheon. It is tempting to assume that the earliest Near Eastern religions, because the main gods were female, reflect a high status for women. It is convenient conclusion but it represents only circumstantial evidence and is not proved. We have no historical records that clearly state the superior status of women. There are just a few things that hint at this. One example is the predominance of female figurines from the Neolithic era. Another is that females dominate in Minoan art. The figure to the left is a statue of the Minoan Snake Goddess. The historical records are scanty and inferential at best. Eventually, though, the early Semite tribes wiped out the female dominated religions of the Near East replacing them with a variety of male gods. By the time writing was common (around 3,000 BCE) the social structures were male dominated, with a few notable exceptions.

One such exception was in and around the Near East, in Sumer (in the lower flood plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers or Mesopotamia – Greek for ‘the land between the rivers’ – modern day Iraq). While Egypt united under one pharaoh, and settlers from Mexico migrated to the Caribbean islands in dug out canoes, and western European farmers constructed large, stone chamber tombs, the earliest civilization developed in the lands around and between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow southeast into the Persian Gulf. The earliest city-states developed on the fertile Mesopotamian Plain. By 3500 BCE Uruk was probably the first city-state. It covered over 1,000 acres in Sumer. These early urban settlements built around the central temple complex (later known as ziggurats) managed by a suite of priestesses and priests.

Mesopotamian traders and accountants invented a writing system. The Sumerians developed writing with cuneiform, a way of arranging impressions stamped on clay by the wedge-like section of a chopped-off reed. Eventually the signs stamped onto the clay became more than mere pictographs. They stood for syllables and sounds. Our modern form of writing comes to us from these early forms. The Egyptians also invented writing using pictographs or hieroglyphs. The Egyptian form of writing, although resulting in a rich literature, did not develop into the alphabet type writing we use today.

The Sumerians used writing primarily as a form of record keeping. The most common cuneiform tablets record transactions of daily life: tallies of cattle, sheep, and goats kept by herdsmen for their owners, production figures, lists of taxes, accounts, and contracts. But there are tablets of letters and poetry as well. Each letter came encased in a slightly larger baked clay closed container, just as we use envelopes today. Another category of cuneiform writing includes a large number of basic texts which were used to teach future generations of scribes. By 2500 BCE there were schools built just for this purpose. There were female scribes as well as male scribes. Cuneiform tablets are not large; they are typically less than 25 centimeters on a side.

The people poured considerable wealth into the construction of clay brick temples and the residences of priests and priestesses who attended to the needs of the gods. The giant temple complexes were centers of economic as well as religious activity. Farmers would bring their produce to the priests and priestesses at the temple who would use enough of the produce to care for the gods and then redistribute it to the people of the city.

The great temples were centers of scholarly activity as well. The priestesses and priests controlled the vast set of astronomical observatories spread across the land to observe the stars and planets (mainly for calendar keeping). Our modern day astronomy can trace its roots back to ancient Sumer. For example, the number sixty, sacred to the god An, was their basic unit of calculation. Sixty minutes to the hour and 360 degrees in a circle were Sumerian concepts. Agricultural advances were based on astronomical advances. The priestesses and priests would tell the people when to plant crops, would predict lunar eclipses, make sundials, and provide calendars. The calendar they developed is still used in a modernized form to date certain religious events like Passover and Easter. All this activity depended upon the systematic astronomical observations made in the network of observatories around Sumer. The highly developed agricultural system and the refined irrigation and water-control systems that enabled Sumer to achieve surplus production also led to the growth of large cities.

So we have our exception. The high status of the chief (or en-) priestess was clear. She dominated the religious, scholarly, and commercial worlds, all of which came together in the temple complex that defined the city. In Babylonia, Sumer, and Akkad and their nearby cities the en-priestess was the center figure of the great commercial and scholarly expanses that stretched through the area. The kingly authority was sanctified by her presence.

Another important Sumerian legacy is its literature. The most famous Sumerian epic, and the one that has survived in the most nearly complete form is the epic of Gilgamesh. The story of Gilgamesh, who actually was king of the city-state of Uruk in approximately 2700 BCE, is a moving story of the ruler's deep sorrow at the death of his friend and of his consequent search for immortality. We do not know who wrote that great epic. The first poems whose author we do know are the great poems of En’Hedu’anna, the en- priestess of the city of Ur. three long poems to Inanna, three poems to Nanna, and forty-two temple hymns still found in translation today. She was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (2334-2290 BCE) who first established this leading position of the en-priestess. There are now excellent web sites describing her.

Sargon was the world's first empire-builder, sending his troops as far as Egypt and Ethiopia. He attempted to establish a unified empire of Sumer and Akkad and to end the hostilities among the city-states. Sargon’s rule introduced a new level of political organization that was characterized by an even more clear-cut separation between religious authority and secular authority. To ensure his supremacy, Sargon created the first conscripted army, a development related to the need to mobilize large numbers of laborers for irrigation and flood-control works. Akkadian strength was boosted by the invention of the composite bow, a new weapon made of strips of wood and horn.

We have our first name, that of En’Hedu’anna (2300 BCE). The tradition of women in science and technology begins. “Hedu’anna” means ornament of heaven, the name given to her when she was installed as en-priestess. We do not know her birth name. She was the chief astronomer-priestess and as such managed the great temple complex of her city of Ur. Although we do not have technical works from her we know that she was a learned, diversely talented woman of power. And we have her poems. We also have an alabaster disk that shows her in a religious procession.

She is shown in full religious regalia, the third person from the right. Our first woman of power and scholarship whose name we know, and the last in a long line of unknown powerful women of the past who followed the stars and the cycles of the Moon. Courtesy of the University Museum, Philadelphia.

It would be easy to say that En’Hedu’anna was unique. But she was not.

There were many such en-priestesses, each a powerful woman who controlled commerce and study. In fact legend claims that Queen Semiramis is the inventor of canals and bridges over rivers and the first to build a tunnel under a river – the Euphrates – to found the city of Babylon. The legend is probably based on Sammeramet who acted as regent of Assyria from 810 – 805 BCE. There are also known poets from this part of the world. Inib-sari (c. 1790 – 1745 BCE) and Eristi-Aya (c. 1790 – 1745 BCE) lived in Akkadia. They were two daughters of king Zimri-Lin.

About the same time across the world, on the eastern side of Asia, legend tells us that the first empress of China – Si-Ling Chi (c. 2640 BCE) discovered the secret of silk weaving by watching silkworms at work in her garden. She discovered how to unwind the silk from the cocoon and weave it into a garment, and so she founded the silk industry in China. Yao, wife of the fourth emperor, invented spinning. Unfortunately I do not know much about the names of famous women, technical or otherwise, of the past in China. The Chinese were great inventors and had many advances available to them long before they were known in the Europe. Things like the iron plow (6th century BCE) and efficient horse harnesses (4th century BCE) were known in China long before they came to the Europe. But the names of inventors were seldom recorded. They did record the names of poets and astronomers. Interestingly, the Chinese knew that the Sun had sunspots by the 4th century BCE – long before Galileo saw them through his telescope. The names of the historical astronomers, though, are all male. We do know that the Empress Shi-Dun (c. 105 CE) with her eunuch Cai-Lun first invented a method for making paper from mulberry tree bark. Many women of China were poets (which means they were literate). Pan Chao (50 – 112 CE) or Ban Zhao was an imperial scholar. She was an official court historian, administered the imperial library, and taught. One of her most famous works is “lessons for a woman”.

Wandering to India I find Gargi, daughter of Vachaknavi, (1500 BCE), honored as a philosopher in the ancient Sanskrit literature, the Upanishads . Upanishad means the inner or mystic teaching. They were written by the sages of India between the 8th and 4th centuries BCE. Maritrayee was similarly honored in later Hindu writings, although one ought not to assume from this that women held high positions in India. Another learned lady was Khana of India, assumed to live in between 800 – 1200 BCE. Her history is mostly legend, but it is said that her knowledge of astronomy was better than her astronomer husband’s. And coming back again to Babylon, Tappeti-Belatikallim (c. 1200 BCE) was known as an alchemist who worked with perfume production.

Tradition, as deduced from tomb paintings (7th – 5th centuries BCE), indicated that Etruscan women enjoyed an autonomy rare in the ancient world. It is fascinating to speculate what we might learn if we had documents from that period. In fact the tomb paintings show that the mirrors used by the women had inscriptions on them, thus implying that the women were literate.

And, of course, we started in Alexandria, Egypt. There were women of power and leadership in Egypt even earlier than En’Hedu’anna in Sumer. Around 3,000 BCE there was an Egyptian queen Meryet-nit who ruled during the First Dynasty of the united Upper and Lower Egypt. Many women influenced the pharaoh even to the point of assuming leadership roles. For example, Hetepheres II (c. 2510 BCE) became Controller of the Affairs of the Kiltwearers, which meant she ran the civil service, as well as overseers, governors, and judges. Around 1878 BCE Aganice of ancient Egypt ruled as consort (daughter or sister) of the Pharaoh Sesotris and supposedly was able to predict the planetary positions (which using hieroglyphs is a neat trick). The Egyptian queen Hatshepsut (c. 1500 BCE) was also known as a physician. There was Berenice who governed Egypt (246 – 241 BCE) when her husband was away. She was honored by her court astronomer Colon who identified one of the constellations as a lock of her hair. That constellation is still known as Coma Berenices. One of her descendents was Cleopatra, today known for her beauty, but in her time known for her diverse talents and intelligence.

And let us not forget Mary the Jewess in the first century CE also in Alexandria. She discovered the formula for hydrochloric acid. She invented many tools for handling chemicals, one of which is still known today as the ban marie – the water bath (the double boiler), Marianbad in German. It is also the prototype for the modern autoclave. She also invented a still called the tribikos, which may have been the first device for distillation. Once, while experimenting with sulfur vapor, she synthesized a metal alloy coated with black sulfide, a compound still known as Mary’s Black.

There was also Beruryah of the 2nd century CE cited for her scholarship in the Talmud.

I have not given many names, but enough to excite us on the search, and there are few technical male names from these periods as well.

Were women in general held in high regard in all these civilizations? As I mentioned earlier probably not, although I do not really know.

In general, very few people were literate, so one finds few men as well, and I suspect that the scholarly women were the lucky ones who had access to study and freedom from the drudgery of the general wifely state completely occupied with the skills of housekeeping. Access to scholars and information has always depended upon gender, location, birth and luck. If one was born to a secure family then one might learn to read, write and cipher. Men have the advantage here. Therefore, if a woman was literate and numerate, she was likely to have links to a tutor, a benevolent father, husband or brother who was willing to share knowledge. Literacy was a privilege for both men and women, but especially for women. Perhaps, though, she lived during a time when women had the great convent schools of England, France and Germany open to them . There will be more on that later.

Regardless, the overwhelmingly vast majority of people, both male and female, had no access at all. They labored for their very food and shelter. The freedom to specialize in scholarship rarely put food onto the table. This freedom springs from the human need to dream a future. Those who are freed to dream are freed by the willing labor of the rest.

One of the greatest strengths of our species is its recognition that scholarship is worthy, is important, is valuable, and necessary. The right to question must be sacrosanct. These women existed and were honored, even though their numbers are few. It would be wrong to assume that women held no positions of power just because I have so few listed. These wonderful women existed and form that thread of scholarship and invention that runs strong through history.

To bring these women out of obscurity and put them into the center of history and science is my goal. I have to look just about everywhere. That is clear from the few examples I do have. Scholarship is the key word, not science. The word ‘scientist’ is rather new, as I said before; now it means someone with a Doctorate in Philosophy, a PhD, who works in a technical field. This person has studied a narrowly defined field of research, and often is well trained only in that field.

But that definition is not broad enough. We need to include toolmakers, inventors, physicians, nurses, and natural philosophers. The “natural philosophers” are those whose endeavors typically cover the classic seven liberal arts ¾ grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. So we look for our women in all fields of endeavor. We need to look outside of schools, because schools did not always exist, and because women could rarely take advantage of those schools that did exist. When schools did not train scientists, learned people were either self-taught or privately taught.

To find these scholars I look for those holders of scholarly degrees from schools, yes, and also for poets and authors, architects and gardeners; I look in industry, in school lists, in textbooks, letters, and stories. The names of scholars may be deduced out of their poems, music, and writings. A literate person perforce meant a numerate person . So to track this, one needs to look at inventors and toolmakers as well as scholars.

Two sciences, however, stayed intact as far back as one wishes to go ¾ astronomy and mathematics. They represent the mainstream of pure science, and they, therefore, provide an especially rich source of names. Before humanity invented writing, we find astronomical based calendar stones and engravings. There are stones, lists, carvings, pictographs and bones for clues . Since astronomy and mathematics were the earliest scholarly arts, names from the history of astronomy and mathematics are easier to find than names from other areas. Astronomy and mathematics marched together through the centuries, not really breaking apart until the end of the 19th century. Historical records tend to record the work of the mathematician/astronomer because of its great practical importance.

Other sciences come from differing sources. For example, the chemists of the 21st century were once called alchemists, and they count as scientists. The names of these women appear in a wonderfully diverse set of places. Women are botanists, engineers, physicians, chemists, mathematicians, inventors, explorers, astronomers, agronomists, biologists, physicists, anthropologists, architects, archeologists – a grand list of scientific disciplines … as well as poets, artists, musicians, writers, singers, mothers, lawyers, activists, laborers, farmers, leaders, fighters. I concentrate here on the first part of the list not the second part. It is much easier to find information about the women in the second part. History easily records the warrior, the politician, and the poet.

There is one field where women always participated - health care. We cannot forget that much of what we call medicine and midwifery is and always has been the province of women. Midwifery was almost exclusively run by women until the 18th century when men usurped the lead away from this traditional women’s task. Unfortunately, history rarely records their names. Perhaps that is because women have always been physicians so they were too common to name. One of the earliest written names of a woman who was a physician is Merit Ptah (c. 2700 BCE), a name from 4800 years ago! Her image is on a tomb in the Valley of Kings in Egypt. She was described by her son, the high priest, as “the chief physician”. The participation of women in surgery began before that – over 5,000 years ago – when surgical instruments of flint and bronze were placed in the grave of Queen Shubad of Ur, ostensibly so that she might practice surgery in the afterlife . Lost in myth is Agande (12th century BCE) who Homer tells us was knowledgeable in the medicinal value of plants. The Greek Agnodice (4th century BCE) was a physician who was brought to trial for acting as a physician. The result of her trial was that the medical profession was legalized for all the free-born women of Athens. There was a nurse much honored by ancient Rome for her skill in healing and gynecology: Acca Laurentia (634 BCE). And six hundred years later women were still known for their healing skills. Ancient Rome had her own physicians – women like Victoria and Leoparda. Artemisia II (died 350 BCE), queen of Caria (the southwest of what is now called Turkey) is famed as a botanist and medical researcher. There are several physicians and midwives from the 1st century BCE Greece: Sotira was a Greek physician; Salpe was a well-known Greek midwife as was Olympias of Thebes and Metrodora. A manuscript by Metrodora exists in Florence. Laïs is yet another physician in Greece. One woman, Panthia, received a tribute from her husband, Glycon (2nd century CE). He was a physician and honored his wife as “not behind me in skill”. Fabiola (died 399 CE) was a Christian follower of St. Jerome who also practiced medicine.

Well, women have always been healers. What about the others?

Do we look for someone who changed the world? Did every scientist change the world? No. Do we look for just those few geniuses who changed the way the world thinks? We can easily remember the few people, both male and female, that produced something with a value that lives through centuries. These are the paradigm shifters - the rare true genius, people like Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. These two men defined the basic rules for the structure of our world. But they lived centuries apart from each other, one in the 17th century and one in the 20th century, thus indicating how rare such genius is.

Then there are those people, far, far greater in number than the paradigm shifters, who still produced something of value for their time and place, and possibly for many times and places. These people are much more difficult to find, and they are important. They provide the basis upon which the rare genius can build a new paradigm. As Sir Isaac Newton said “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants”. These women and men are important; they are special. They are the hidden giants.

I seek the hidden giants.

As I have already said, the information about the traditional role of women in science and technology is not easily available. There were books written about the history of science and scientists during the 20th century. A book on women in science written in 1913 lists over 350 technical women of the past. This book is an amazing tour de force combining romantic views of women with solid references to original sources. Asimov’s classic book , some 50 years later lists sixteen women. Patrick Moore's book Men of the Stars , a mere decade after Asimov’s book, has none. This is a disappointing trend. Certainly, however, the past decade has produced a large list of publications about technical women. The 20th century CE is covered rather well. But it is misleading to assume that women were not scholars before the 20th century CE just because their names are missing from the history texts. Their absence is involuntary - a result of how history was compiled. We all have just opened the treasure box. These women contributed much. They had the entire universe to play with, to study and to enjoy. They were not left out of this great human experience.

Let me concentrate in one place where we do have a few records – ancient Greece. By Homer’s time (7th century BCE) Greek women perhaps held a disadvantaged position but nonetheless were capable of ruling in their husbands’ absences. They were not considered inferior or incompetent. Homer and other poets tell stories of these strong women. In addition, although the Amazons are lost in legend and unproved to exist, many wrote of them. In fact Homer tells us in the Iliad that the Amazonian queen Penthesilea fought in the Trojan War (c. 1200 BCE) and was killed by Achilles. Legend records that she invented the battle-axe.

Times changed though. In general women were expected to keep silent, stay at home and become proficient in the needle and the loom. Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE, the great philosopher whose writings directed European thought for a thousand years) did not believe that women were educable. Athens (and eventually Western Europe) followed along Aristotle’s lines. Sparta, on the other hand still supported the education and development of women. History tells us the final outcome of these two great states. Sparta was eventually defeated by Athens. During this time the status of women in the Near and Middle East dropped significantly. Their legal rights eroded away to a shadow of what they had been. There are occasional records of women as poets, leaders and warriors, just as there are for men, but few of philosophy.

Nonetheless, despite the beliefs of Aristotle, some women managed to obtain access to scholars and scholarly pursuits. A very few valued names do exist. Perhaps surprisingly, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427 – 347 BCE) wrote about women in his great work The Republic . In the perfect state, he wrote, women as well as men needed education – the same education. The philosopher Socrates (469 – 399 BCE) honored Diotama as one of his teachers. Plato taught two woman in his school: Lasthenia and Axiothea of Philus (c. 350 BCE).

Sappho became so well known as a poet that Plato proclaimed her the tenth Muse. She had many pupils in her island home where she ran a school of poetry and music. But we look for those who were philosophers as well as poets. Hipparchia, the wife of Crates (c. 470 BCE – founder of the comedic play), wrote a lovely sentiment – “I am much stronger than Atalanta from Maenalus because my wisdom is better than racing over the mountain ”, an early example of the epigram ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’.

Themista, the wife of Leon and a correspondent of Epicurus (371 – 271 BCE), was known as a philosopher in her own right; Themista was even called a sort of female Solon (Solon was “The Great Law-Giver” to ancient Athens). Perictione, a disciple of Pythagoras (c. 569 – c. 475 BCE), distinguished herself by her writings among which are Wisdom and The Harmony of Women. Themistocleia (6th century BC) was a Delphic priestess, the teacher and mentor of Pythagoras. Legend has it that Pythagoras admired Themistocleia to such an extent he kept his school open to women also. Whatever the reason, women did attend his school. After his death, the great school of Pythagoras was run by his daughter and his wife Theano. Theano not only worked in the areas of physics, medicine and child psychology, but was a great astronomer/mathematician in her own right. Her work on the theorem of the Golden Mean and the corresponding Golden Rectangle are considered to be her most important contributions. Her Life of Pythagoras is lost. Arate of Cyrene (5th century BCE) taught philosophy in a school in Attica. She was the daughter of Aristippus, the founder of the Cyenaic school of philosophy. Even in the time of Boccaccio (1313 – 1375 CE), 1,000 years later, she was still honored as a veritable prodigy of learning, writer of forty books, teacher of over 110 philosophers. Her epitaph

The splendor of Greece
The beauty of Helen
The virtue of Thirma
The pen of Aristippos
The soul of Socrates
and the tongue of Homer .

illustrates the high regard in which she was held.

These are but a few of the women of Greece who won renown for their scholarship. Many other women earned their way through the doorway of the hetaerae – the learned companions of men. Such a position does not exist now. These women were considered highly moral and virtuous, free, but unmarried. There were many such women who were respected scholars. Perhaps the most famous was Aspasia, the companion of the political leader Pericles (5th century BCE). Her house became a place of rest for many famous scholars and leaders of the day. Tradition has it that she was the teacher of Socrates in philosophy and politics and Pericles in rhetoric. Men brought their wives to her for instruction. Did she write some of the great speeches of Pericles? Maybe yes, maybe no. There is every reason to believe that she influenced Plato’s ideas on the equality of women.

Known as the witches of Thessaly (1st through 3rd centuries BCE), women such as Aglaonice, were thought to “draw down the Moon”. They knew how to predict lunar eclipses . The word “witch” is an epithet given them by later authors, although it is likely Aglaonice was regarded as a sorceress by her contemporaries for her skill in predicting eclipses. Her boasting gave rise to a Greek proverb used for braggarts “Yes as the Moon obeys Aglaonice”. A crater on the planet Venus is named for her.

Once small area of the world covering a mere century or so gives us so many names. The 5th and 6th centuries BCE are sometimes called the Axial Ages because so many influential people lived during this time span: Confucius and Lao Tzu in China, the Buddha in India, Mahavira (founder of Jainism) in India, and Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Greece. Then five hundred years later Jesus lived in Judea, and then six hundred years after that Mohammed lived.

“What I have done here no one has done before”, En’Hedu’anna said. These women are shining lights from our past. Let me step forward in time to shine that light on others.