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Review
School Science Review 
, June 2008,
89
(329)
Women in science, a social and cultural history
Ruth Watts. 300 pp. Londonand New York: Routledge,Taylor and FrancisGroup, 2007.£17.99ISBN 978 0 41525307 9
Not long ago, I gave my year 7 science class ageneral knowledge quiz. One of the questions was
Name a famous female scientist 
’. No one was able toanswer that question, though one student, probably indesperation, opted for naming her Science teacher. Although you might not expect 11-year-olds to knowthe names of many famous scientists, they werenearly all able to name a famous male scientist,especially – and not wanting to stir up controversyhere – if mathematicians were accepted as honoraryscientists, which in this book, they are.Ruth Watts’s scholarly, yet readable, account of women in Science (and mathematics) throughout theages, starts by confirming that few people can namemany women scientists beyond Marie Curie, so mystudents are not much out of step. Why there are so few famous women inScience is a key issue running through Professor Watts’s book. As Professor of Education at the University of Birmingham, and with research interests thatinclude the history of education and gender, she is ideally placed to consider the role of women in science and this book should be of interest to scienceand/or education historians as well as anyone interested in gender issues. Itwould be a useful read for those entering initial teacher training in science aswell as providing considerable material for thought for women undergraduatesand graduates in scientific disciplines.Reading this book could also save a lot of other reading as recent researchon the history of women in science, and on gender and science, is discussedand evaluated as well as set in its historical, educational, social and culturalcontexts.Having a postcard of Maggi Hambling’s portrait of Dorothy Hodgkin (with theinsulin model – whose structure she unravelled – in front of her) on my desk, Iwas interested to see how the woman who won a Nobel prize for her work onpenicillin and vitamin B12 was covered in this book. In an exploration of theeleven women Nobel-prize winners in science, compared to the hundreds of male winners, their education and background is tabulated methodically. Itappears that Dorothy Hodgkin, like most of the others, didn’t go straight to
 
university. Most of these highflying women scientists also had to studyprivately, had families with extensive academic contacts and at least oneparent who encouraged them. Such analyses make for fascinating readingand provide some insights into why so few women scientists have made it intothe collective conscientiousness.The only downsides to this book that I noticed are that there are nopictures and little information on the impact of women in science in ancientcultures such as in China and Arabian countries.Overall, this is a book worth getting for a sixth-form library, college or university library or just for personal interest.
Sue Howarth
PS: Just for interest, next time anyone asks for a list of famous womenscientists, apart from Marie Curie and Dorothy Hodgkin, try:Hypatia (in ancient Greek times)Hildegard (12th century)Margaret Cavendish (17th century)Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (18
th
century)Meria Sibylla Merian (17/18th century)Jane Marcet and Mary Somerville (19th century)Rosalind Franklin, Kathleen Lonsdale, Dorothy Needham, BarbaraMcClintock, Margaret Meade, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Rachel Carson,Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Chien-Shiung Wu (20
th
century).
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