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Headstrong
Cover of Headstrong
Headstrong
52 Women Who Changed Science—and the World
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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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Excerpts-
  • From the book 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-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 2, 2015
    Journalist Swaby spotlights the accomplishments of 52 female scientists throughout history with pithy biographies organized by their areas of expertise. Inspired by the tone-deaf New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, which honored the rocket scientist’s beef stroganoff before her professional accomplishments, Swaby celebrates barrier-breaking titans such as Helen Taussig, the first female president of the American Heart Association; astronaut Sally Ride; and biochemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who inspired the newspaper headline “Nobel Prize for British Wife.” Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper receive praise for their contributions to computer programming, while Jeanne Villepreux-Power and Stephanie Kwolek are praised for inventing the aquarium and Kevlar, respectively. Swaby shows her subjects toiling in secret bedroom labs, damp basements, and janitor’s closets as they faced gender-based discrimination: Mary Putnam Jacobi was admitted to France’s École de Médecine on the condition she “maintain a buffer of empty seats around her at all times”; Rosalind Franklin had her research on DNA structure stolen by male colleagues; and Émilie du Chatelet frantically translated Newton’s Principia into French before the birth of her fourth child. Jewish female scientists faced further adversity during WWII, with several forced to flee their homelands. Swaby has collected an inspirational master list of women in science with accessible explanations of their work.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2015
    Minibiographies of women and their accomplishments in science.Freelance journalist and Longshot magazine senior editor Swaby presents brief histories of 52 women who have been recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to a wide variety of scientific fields, including medicine, biology, genetics, physics and astronomy, among others. Although many of these women may not be familiar names outside their courses of study, the author's spadework should bring them to the forefront, allowing the general public to learn about the females who pushed beyond sexist attitudes to undertake and achieve success in a male-dominated arena. Covering a few hundred years, from the 1600s to the 1950s, Swaby only includes those women whose "life work has already been completed." Many of the women were pioneers, breaking gender barriers to attend famous schools, like France's Ecole de Medecine, in order to pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, scientists and other professionals. There were also those who fought against religious persecution to continue their experiments. Among Swaby's subjects are Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Stephanie Kwolek, the American who invented Kevlar, and Inge Lehmann, the Dane who discovered Earth's inner core. "By treating women in science like scientists instead of anomalies or wives who moonlight in the lab," writes the author, "we can accelerate the growth of a whole new generation of chemists, archaeologists, and cardiologists while also revealing a whole hidden history of the world." These short accounts should inspire girls who want to study science to follow their dreams and would be useful to teachers who wish to include more information about successful women in their curriculums. Readers may argue over the selections, but Swaby provides succinct and informative narratives on some of the women who have made important contributions to the realm of science.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2014
    Never mind the prominent role particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti played in CERN's discovery of the Higgs boson, women just don't get the encouragement they need and deserve to pursue careers in science. This handy book, with profiles of 52 women from Nobel Prize winners to major science innovators, should help.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review "Swaby tells the scientists' stories with energy and clarity. Refreshingly, spouses and children are mentioned only when relevant--and the book is recipe-free."
  • Wall Street Journal "A corrective--a spur to change... Swaby's subjects are all worthy women who deserve more publicity."
  • The Washington Post "[A] collection of brisk, bright biographies."
  • Elle "Rachel Swaby's no-nonsense and needed Headstrong dynamically profiles historically overlooked female visionaries in science, technology, engineering, and math."
  • Maria Konnikova, Contributing New Yorker writer and New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes "A woman revolutionized heart surgery. A woman created the standard test given to all newborns to determine their health. A woman was responsible for some of the earliest treatments of previously terminal cancers. We shouldn't need to be reminded of their names, but we do. With a deft touch, Rachel Swaby has assembled an inspiring collection of some of the central figures in twentieth century science. Headstrong is an eye-opening, much-needed exploration of the names history would do well to remember, and Swaby is a masterful guide through their stories."
  • William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore and Under a Wild Sky "Rachel Swaby's fine, smart look at women in science is a much-needed corrective to the record--a deftly balanced field guide to the overlooked (Hilde Mangold), the marginalized (Rosalind Franklin), the unexpected (Hedy Lamarr), the pioneering (Ada Lovelace), and the still-controversial (Rachel Carson). Swaby reminds us that science, like the rest of life, is a team sport played by both genders."
  • Danica McKellar, actress and New York Times bestselling author of Math Doesn't Suck "Headstrong is a true gem. So many amazing women have had an incredible impact on STEM fields, and this book gives clear, concise, easy-to-digest histories of 52 of them--there's no longer an excuse for not being familiar with our math and science heroines. Thank you, Rachel!"
  • Booklist "Swaby's exuberant portrayals make this a compulsively readable title. There is no good reason why every single woman here is not a household name, and now, thankfully, Swaby is helping rectify history's oversight."
  • Publishers Weekly "Swaby celebrates barrier-breaking titans... [and] has collected an inspiration master list of women in science with accessible explanations of their work."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Although many of these women may not be familiar names outside their courses of study, the author's spadework should bring them to the forefront, allowing the general public to learn about the females who pushed beyond sexist attitudes to undertake and achieve success in a male-dominated arena. These short accounts should inspire girls who want to study science to follow their dreams....succinct and informative."
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