Alic, Margaret. Hypatia's Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity Through the

 

Alic, Margaret. Hypatia's Heritage: A History of Women in Science from Antiquity Through the
Nineteenth Century. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Science is pretty much a man's game. The history of science, written by men, is a history of a
profession to which women were denied access. It should surprise no one that women have,
therefore, made but few contributions to science. The Women's Movement has been studying
ways in which women can gain admission to the field, but it has also been demonstrating that
woman have, down through the years, made significant contributions to science. This book is a
history of their contributions. The allusion of the title is to a near mythic female of the later
Roman Empire who was killed because of her skills as a scientist (seh was killed, appropriately,
by a religious fanatic). From the epilogue: "From the earliest times women contributed to the
development of scientific knowledge, yet most of the women in this book remain unknown -
even to historians of science - and most of those recorded here were women of privilege; as such,
they represent only the surface of the history of women in science. Thousands of other women
scientists have undoubtedly been forgotten forever." (p. 191) Indeed, the women reported here
are relatively unknown and, perhaps, their stories should be known. But most important for this
bibliography: the process of correcting the wrong done to women in forgetting their roles in
science is the same process of science watching that other historians of science have used.

It is not merely that women have been excluded from science as a profession. They have been
denied knowledge in general and been forced to play a subservient role to men. A woman
scientist who helped her husband or father detracted from his glory when she sought to share in
it. She might well be expected to deny her contribution so that her man could bask in glory and
get the recognition which would be wasted on her. Then, too, it was fairly easy to steal ideas
from women who, after all, weren't expected to have any ideas to begin with. The Church made
the role of women quite clear: they were supposed to be handmaidens to men. They were always
to be helpers, not leaders. In most European countries, education and positions in education were
denied females; a competent mathematician could hardly find a job in a university even if she
had the required training.

I must add, however, that the author is uncritical in accepting her heroines. Some of the early
women she mentions are hardly historical figures.