Our community of Misadventurers is vast. We are a community of professional and recreational athletes, of backyard explorers, intrepid thru-hikers, wildlife lovers and poetry enthusiasts. We are insatiable wander-lusters, tiny-house builders, natural-foodies, eco-gear junkies, and DIY-ers. We are travel writers and scientists. Our community is filled with movers and shakers excited to share our love of this great big planet we live on with one another. Pick up a copy of Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky and you’ll meet fifty more Misadventurers—pioneers of science over the last 1,600 years.
When I first came across this book, everything about it, the cover art, the title, and lettering screamed “READ ME”. It didn’t take long to figure out I was right. The first line of the introduction read, “Nothing says trouble like a woman in pants.” I was hooked, forget line and sinker, I think I’d swallowed part of the rod too.
Women In Science combines playful drawings with a simple, clear, writing style that delivers not only a user-friendly guide to famous female scientists throughout history but also illustrates the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (collectively known as STEM) education and careers. Moreover, it highlights the struggles that these women, endured, living and working in male-dominated fields, ahead of their time to make monumental advances in their disciplines. Elizabeth Blackwell was accepted into the Geneva Medical College as a joke played by the entirely male student body. To their surprise, she showed up, and to their chagrin, stayed through many “inappropriate” anatomy lessons. She finally received her degree in 1849, becoming the first woman with a medical degree in the US. Gertrude Elion tried desperately to attend graduate school for biochemistry but after lack of funding, few openings for women, and being told to choose between her day job in cancer research or night school for her PhD she abandoned that plan. That setback didn’t stop her though—she developed medications to treat Leukemia, Herpes, and AIDs.
While the book highlights ultra-famous women scientists like Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Katherine Johnson (hat’s off to the movie Hidden Figures for securing Johnson’s spot in the “known”-lady-scientist club) it also covers a wide range of scientific fields. Not surprisingly, Astronomy, Math, and Physics are well represented. How do the less common scientific disciplines fare? Quite well. Volcanologists, Zoologists, Geologists, Environmental Conservationists, Neurobiologists and others all get their stories told too. And for those of us who love too many different things to pick just one career, check out Hedy Lemarr, Hollywood Actress and Inventor responsible for creating ‘Frequency Hopping Spectrum’ needed for guiding torpedoes and making WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS! Each woman is personalized beyond ‘who did what for science, how, and when’ through fun personal tidbits. Examples include how Rita Levi-Montalcini, the neurologist who discovered Nerve Growth Factor, once gave a lecture in her nightgown after her luggage had been lost.
Through her writing, Ignatofsky “tells the stories of some of these scientists, from Ancient Greece to the modern day, who in the face of ‘No’ said, ‘Try and Stop Me.’” Some of these women fought inequality both in the lab and across society. For instance, Annie Easley who in the 1950s became one of NASA’s mathematicians and later one of its rocket scientists also taught fellow African American’s how to pass Jim Crow voting tests. Mamie Phipps Clark’s psychology research proved that segregation hurt the development of young children. Her research was essential to reversing Brown v. Board of Education.
This book is, at its most basic form, is a visual treat and exciting read for nerdy-ladies everywhere. But, more importantly, it is a rally to arms for all women. Let it be a bed-time story read over and over again, until the pages are bent and torn, until all little girls everywhere are dressing up as Dr. Princesses, drawing pictures of outer space or ancient fossils, playing at curing cancer, or building models of sustainable energy plants. Get a copy here.