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Headstrong
Cover of Headstrong
Headstrong
52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World
Borrow Borrow

Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history's brightest female scientists.
In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children." It wasn't until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today's female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong
delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby's vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one's ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they're best known. This fascinating tour reveals 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history's brightest female scientists.
In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children." It wasn't until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today's female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong
delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby's vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one's ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they're best known. This fascinating tour reveals 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

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  • From the cover Mary Putnam Jacobi

    1842–1906

    Medicine
  • American

    A warning from Edward Clarke, MD, professor at Harvard: "There have been instances, and I have seen such, of females . . . graduated from school or college excellent scholars, but with undeveloped ovaries. Later they married, and were sterile." He goes on to explain how reproductive organs fail to thrive. "The system never does two things well at the same time. The muscles [note: muscles = menstruation] and the brain cannot functionate in their best way at the same moment." These passages are from Clarke's book, Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance For Girls, published in 1873. The gist: Exerting oneself while on the rag is dangerous. Therefore educating women is dangerous. For a woman's own safety, she should not pursue higher education. The womb is at stake.

    Today, it's easy to write off Clarke's thesis as one doctor's nutty ramblings. His descriptions of students—"crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia," as a result of "our present system of educating girls"—sounds more like The Walking Dead than students at a university campus. But when A Fair Chance for Girls was published, administrators and faculty opposed to women in education hoisted up the book as a confirmation of their views, couched in an argument about safety.

    Mary Putnam Jacobi thought the whole thing was hogwash. Jacobi, an American, was the first woman admitted to France's Ecole de Medecine. It took a bit of wrangling, but once she was in, Jacobi found her medical training thrilling. Certainly there were people who doubted her ability to succeed—even her mother did some hand-wringing over her schooling—but Jacobi proceeded with ease and humor. In 1867, she wrote home to assure her mother, "I really am only enjoying myself . . . the hospitals present so much that is stimulating, (and do not be shocked if I add amusing) that I am never conscious of the slightest head strain."

    To battle Clarke's assertions, Jacobi could have presented her personal experience as a counterargument. Her education at the Ecole de Medecine took place after she'd already received an MD in the United States. Medical school made Jacobi neither ill nor infertile. But bringing forward an autobiographical account when evidence was within reach was like feeling for your own heartbeat when it could be measured with a stethoscope.

    Jacobi challenged Clarke's thinly veiled justification for discrimination with 232 pages of hard numbers, charts, and analysis. She gathered survey results covering a woman's monthly pain, cycle length, daily exercise, and education along with physiological indicators like pulse, rectal temperature, and ounces of urine. To really bring her argument home, Jacobi had test subjects undergo muscle strength tests before, during, and after menstruation. The paper was almost painfully evenhanded. Her scientific method-supported mic drop: "There is nothing in the nature of menstruation to imply the necessity, or even the desirability, of rest." If women suffered from consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia, it wasn't, as Clarke claimed, because they studied too hard.

    Her study—sweeter for its evidence than its tone—won the Boylston Prize at Harvard University just three years after Clarke, a professor at the same school, published A Fair Chance. The Clarke versus Jacobi scholarly disagreement may sound like academic quibbling, a biased doctor against a rigorous one, but in the argument over who was allowed university admission, to have science on your side was hugely important. After Clarke's...
About the Author-
  • Rachel Swaby is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Runner's World, Wired, O, The Oprah Magazine, New Yorker.com, Afar, and others. She is a senior editor at Longshot magazine, the editor-in-chief of The Connective: Issue 1, a former research editor at Wired, and a past presenter at Pop-Up magazine. She lives in Brooklyn.
    www.rachelswaby.com
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine A sense of clarity and importance is conveyed in Lauren Fortgang's narration of Swaby's concise biographies of female figures in twentieth-century science. Fifty-two women who made significant differences in seven scientific fields are introduced and recognized as the role models they became throughout their lifetimes. Swaby's wittiness and Fortgang's easy pace and engaging tone encourage listener interest in each groundbreaking scientist and lead to greater understanding of what each woman had to overcome to make her discovery. Passionate and feminine, Fortgang's voice is the perfect fit for a book that seeks to increase recognition for women in science. D.Z. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World
Rachel Swaby
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