18 May 2022


The Role of Women in Science

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Explain what role women played in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th Century?

Women played a very significant role in the field of science during the Scientific Revolution. Women have effectively contributed to science since then. The huge sacrifice that women made in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th Century cannot be gainsaid. They surmounted several hurdles to make themselves acceptable within the field of science. It is important to note that during the 18th century, women lived in a largely patriarchal society. Therefore, it was not easy for their input in science to be recognized. The role of women in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th started expanding when they began to play an integral part in supporting the financial needs of their families. Women used their acquired knowledge during the enlightenment period to support the creation of scientific innovations during the 18th century. Women were motivated by the scientific developments of the 17th century to also take an active role in science. They did it during the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century by formulating theories of nature. They were able to research and perform experiments on various scientific topics before publishing findings for the public to r5ecognize their work. 

Many women in America and Europe were greatly interested in the natural sciences. They would study the scientific works of the male scientists with the aim of getting knowledge. Mostly, these women then used the knowledge gained from the scientific research and theories of the male scientists to do practical applications. From the practical applications of the scientific theories and research works, women would then come up with improved ideas of the already researched scientific concepts. Some of the fields where women contributed largely during the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century include chemistry, physics, mathematics, natural history and botany. 

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It is vital to mention the fact that women actively played a very important role in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century, the same way they participated in the Renaissance and the Humanistic Movements (Musson, 2014). As mentioned, the scientific discoveries done by men in the 17th and early 18th centuries really inspired women to be interested in the field of science. They decided to also take part in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century by formulating their theories regarding the natural world (Musson, 2014). 

It is not enough to mention the role of women in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century without mentioning the specific female personalities who played renowned roles in the field of science then. These female personalities include Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. These women scientists would perform their scientific experiments and publish findings. It is interesting to note that the women who had very significant role in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century did not have formal training or a lot of education, unlike the case of those who participated in the humanistic precepts. However, they were able to succeed through reading and studying science by themselves. It is important to note that this was a time when even women were not allowed to access education. They were used as housewives by their husbands (Musson, 2014). Therefore, breaking away from this traditional conditioning of the world society was not an easy thing for these exemplary female scientists of the 18th century. Many women across Europe and America became interested in the natural sciences. 

The Countess of Cinchon or Chinchon, Ana de Osorio, was the first woman to create alert in Europe, regarding the medicinal properties of quinine bark. She had discovered this fact after having it cure her malaria. However, Walter Reed took the credit for the full discovery of quinine as a strong palliative treatment for malaria at the time the United States took over the construction of the Panama Canal from France (Musson, 2014). Though he took the full credit for quinine full discovery, the alert for his study of this medicine was created by Ana de Osorio, a female scientist. 

Another key female scientist who played a major role during the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century was Maria Sibylla Merian. He I renowned as the most gifted natural scientist of the 18th century, despite the fact that she became popular as an artist. On one occasion, she went to the fields with her father to collect specimens. She was able to complete and publish 6 collections of the engravings of European flowers as well as insects. Although she was doing it for art, these were just more than artistic works. For example, she observed and made paintings of the caterpillars at every phase of their development. This work even attracted the focus of the Director of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens as well as other male insect collectors. She finally wrote her book of the sixty engravings, which set her up as a renowned naturalist.

Another important female scientist was Margaret Cavendish, who was an English aristocratic lady. She was able to teach herself mathematics, astronomy and the studies about the universe. She then published 14 books entailing things to do with natural history and atomic physics. Her role was simply giving people scientific knowledge about the natural science during the 18th century.

Emilie Du Chatelet was a very useful woman during the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century. This woman was the most erudite female scientists of them all. She gained acceptance into the scientific and mathematical fields of Paris. She got glowing reputation as a renowned physicist during the 18th century. She had knowledge of about 7 different languages and could read very fast because of her high education background. She interpreted and translated the scientific theories of Sir Isaac Newton. She even replicated the scientific experiments of Newton, earning huge respect and recognition as a physicist. Moreover, she also took up the mathematical studies of Rene Descartes. However, she achieved all these fetes amid great resistance from the people around her. Her father even confessed that he tried to discourage her from taking up the study of Rene Descartes, a French mathematician. It was her boyfriend who encouraged her to hire professors of physics and mathematics from the University of Paris to teach her. She still faced resistance from her professional colleagues. She would be barred from entering the Parisian coffeehouses, which were venues for the meetings of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers. She was barred from joining fellow scientists and mathematicians in these places because of her female gender. However, she made a male suit and could where it in order to disguise her gender. 

Caroline Herschel is renowned for reinventing the role of women in astronomy. She was taught mathematics in order to assist her brother in the laboratory calculations. She would study the heaven using a small Newtonian reflector. These studies enabled her to make her original astronomical observations and discoveries. At the time when she started to study the sky for the clusters of starts referred to as nebulae, it was only 100 of them known. However, she played a major role in increasing the number of the known nebulae to 2500. Another major achievement of Herschel was the discovery of the nine comets. She gained recognition and respect as the first woman to discover a comet.

Therefore, the focus on these female scientists who participated in the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century shows the important role that they played then. They would interpret the scientific theories of male scientists for the people. Some of them made very important discoveries that then strengthened the Scientific Revolution of the 18th century (Musson, 2014). Women also helped the male scientists, particularly mathematicians, in their works during the 18th century. 

  What role do women in science play today? 

Today, the role of women in science has become huge. There are many factors that make women to play an improved role in the field of science when compared to the 18th century during the Scientific Revolution. Today, women do not face the same gender discrimination that they used to experience in the 18th century. Moreover, women access education and training in the field of science just like men. Therefore, the role of women in science today includes doing research and making discoveries in the field of health and physics. Women have taken an active role in the development of new medicines meant for curing various diseases. Moreover, women are innovating new physical machines and technology meant to make work of human beings easier. 

Additionally, women have taken an active role in teaching science and training scientists (Ceci et al., 2014). Therefore, it is factual that women have now taken the role of producing new scientists. They are scientists in the universities and colleges and play an equal role to that of men in educating science courses. These women are also writing books on various topics of science like nutrition and diet. Women are active in giving empirical suggestions on the right nutritional behavior. In fact, the field of biology is today dominated by women scientists.


Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., & Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in academic science A changing landscape.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest 15 (3), 75-141.

Musson, A. E. (2014).  Science, technology and economic growth in the eighteenth century . Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge.

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