Monday, August 31, 2015

Rachel Carson, Marine Biologist and Ecologist

Written by Elisabeth Pendergrass

Born: May 27, 1907, Springdale, Pennsylvania
Died: April 14, 1964, Silver Spring Maryland

S.T.E.A.M. Powers

  • Marine Biologist
  • Ecologist -Writer -Activist
  • Mother of the Environmental Movement 

Her Story...

“Human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some irreversibly.” 
Often times, human beings forget that every single action we do has an effect on the world around us. Sometimes that effect is minimal and goes unnoticed, but sometimes those minimal actions build up over time and cause harm.. Rachel Carson was one of the women on the forefront of this notion. She fought for awareness and change in chemical regulations and government practices.

Rachel Carson was a woman with ideas that were far beyond her time . She was an empowered woman whose love for writing and science allowed her to bring awareness to the harmful effects of chemicals in the environment. Not only did she become an advocate for better government practices, she also wrote about the ocean and the magic it holds in such a lyrical and enthralling way.

Rachel Carson conducts research off the Florida Atlantic Coast with Bob Hines, 1952.
Image via U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
And So It Begins…
Rachel Carson was born on May 27 in 1907 on a farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania. At a very young age, her mother supported and pushed her to pursue her love for nature and writing. She was originally published in fourth grade, but her accomplishments were just beginning.

Although women were going to college during this period, it was not exactly a common occurrence. The fact that Rachel Carson attended and graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women in 1929 is a great feat. In between undergraduate school and graduate school, she worked at the Woods Hole Marine Biology Lab. She was awarded a full time scholarship to get her master’s at John Hopkin’s University in 1932 where she studied Marine Zoology. Regardless of the fact that her education focused on the sciences, Rachel’s love and talent for writing never subsided.

Headlines like this one in the New York Times in 1962 showed Carson's warnings were being taken seriously.
Image via Environment & Society Portal.
She is most well known as a writer for her published works like “The Sea Around Us” published in 1952 and “The Edge of the Sea” (c. 1955). Before these books were released, she was the Editor-in-Chief for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, but became a full time writer in 1952. She took her talents and loves and combined them to express science, the ocean, and its’ wonders in a lyrical, spiritual and emotional way.

Rachel Carson is a role model; I strive to have her courage and strength. In 1962, she wrote “Silent Spring” challenging the government to change their practices with chemical pesticides. She lived through World War II and was concerned for the health of society due to the massive misuse of chemicals throughout the war. She was often attacked by the chemical companies or disregarded due to her “alarmist” thoughts, but she held her ground. She stood up for what she believed in and brought human awareness to the fact that we are a key factor in a delicate system.

All rights reserved © 1963 Charles Schulz

But All Good Things Must Come to an End
Even during her long fight with breast cancer, she was continuously fighting to bring awareness to the issues of humanity’s effect on the environment. In the end, her hard work began to pay off. Her research, and support from the Science Advisory Committee, lead to state legislature for proper pesticide control and practices. Rachel Carson died on April 14th in 1964, but she continues to live on today in her pledge and in her words.
"I pledge myself to preserve and protect America's fertile soils, her mighty forests and rivers, her wildlife and minerals, for on these her greatness was established and her strength depends." ~Rachel Carson, 1946
In April 2014, Google honored Rachel Carson with her own logo for a day.

Learn More


Books by Rachel Carson:
  • Under the Sea-Wind, 1941
  • The Sea Around Us, 1951
  • The Edge of the Sea, 1955
  • Silent Spring, 1962
  • The Sense of Wonder, 1998 (posthumous publication)

Books About Rachel Carson:
  • Rachel Carson, Witness for Nature (Linda Lear, 1997)
  • On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson (William Souder, 2012)
  • Girls Who Looked Under Rocks (Atkins/Conner, 2012) - Excellent for young readers

Mary Anning, Paleontologist

Written by Elisabeth Pendergrass

May 21,1799 - March 9, 1847
Lyme Regis, Dorset, England

S.T.E.A.M. Powers

  • Paleontologist
  • Fossil collector
  • Discovered the first first correctly-identified ichthyosaur skeleton and the first two plesiosaur skeletons

Her Story

Mary Anning was an extraordinary woman who shone in a male-dominated world. Her discoveries were classified as some of the most significant geological finds of all time, yet her name is not a common household name. Brought up in poverty and anonymity, Mary Anning shook the scientific community like no one ever thought a woman could.

Lyme Regis, England
Mary Anning was born in Dorset, England on the cliffs of Lyme Regis to Richard and Mary Anning. She was the oldest of ten children, but unfortunately, only she and her brother, Joseph, survived to adulthood. Their father was a carpenter and the rest of the family sold fossils they found along the beach and in the cliffs to keep an income. Her father died when Mary was eleven, which pushed the family into more debt. It was not until Lt.-Col Thomas Birch, a professional fossil collector, got to know the Anning family that he decided to sell his fossil collection and donate the proceeds to the Anning family. He felt that they should not live in poverty when their findings had already contributed so much to the scientific community.

Mary Anning's rock hammer, via
The Discovery to Fame 
In 1811, when Mary Anning was only eleven, she and her brother Joseph found the first complete Ichthyosaur - a huge discovery! This discovery, along with many of her marine reptiles findings, opened possibilities to investigate prehistoric life and gain a better understanding of how life and the world began. In 1823 when she found the Long-Necked Plesiosaurus, the sea dragon. When it was validated by a member of the geological society the Anning family became legitimate and respectable in the fossil community. While running the family fossil business, she continued to make remarkable discoveries like the unearthing of the Pterodactylus, also known as the “Flying-Dragon”.

Letter and drawing from Mary Anning announcing the discovery of a fossil animal now known as
Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus, 26 December 1823

A Woman to Remember 
Although very little is known about the life of Mary Anning, she is one of the most significant female scientists in history. At age 36, she was awarded an annual pay from the British association for the Advancement of Science and Geological Society of London. She was also the first honorary member of the Dorset County Museum. Towards the end of her life, she opened up a shop to sell fossils, stones and shells. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 47 after a long battle with breast cancer. Due to the circumstances and time she was born in, Mary Anning’s work was often placed in collections and museums without any accreditation, which caused her family to fade from public mind and the scientific community. Anna Pinney, a young writer who would occasionally accompany Mary, wrote about the negligence and mistreatment that Mary would receive from the scientific community in relation to her gender.

Mary was the first to document the Dimorphodon, a flying pterosaur. via

Bones, Bones, and Bones
Contrary to popular belief, Mary Anning proved that our roots and our upbringing do not define us or our future. Many scientists within the geological community were surprised by Mary Anning’s skill and knowledge since she had come from such a poor background. Mary Anning’s discoveries opened up a world of possibilities for the scientific community. By finding these fossils, she provided evidence that challenged the biblical view of creation and sparked the exploration into the origin of life on earth. She was a woman who did not let her background, her gender or societal limitations stop her from becoming one of the most significant scientists in the geological community.
 “The carpenter’s daughter has won a name for herself, and has deserved to win it.”-Charles Dickens
Google honored Mary Anning with her own "doodle" on May 21, 2014

Learn More about Mary Anning 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Word from the Ladies: Caroline Lucretia Herschel

Caroline Lucretia Herschel, the lady of comets, wrote the epitaph that is found on her grave. She chose these words to mark her final resting place. 

Keep your eyes on the stars and the sciences, ladies. Be S.T.E.A.M. Empowered.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mary Putnam Jacobi, Physician and Writer

Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, via Library of Congress
Written by Jill M. Staake

Born: August 31, 1842, London
Died: June 10, 1906, New York

S.T.E.A.M. Powers

  • First female student at the École de Médecine, University of Paris
  • Organized the Women's Medical Association of New York City
  • Published fiction along with important medical studies and women's suffrage writings

Her Story

In August 2015, Senator Elizabeth Warren stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate to make an impassioned speech in defense of the organization Planned Parenthood. One passage caught the country's attention particularly:“Do you have any idea what year it is?” she demanded scathingly. “Did you fall down, hit your head and think you woke up in the 1950s or the 1890s? Should we call for a doctor?”

Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, who had died more than 100 years earlier, would doubtless have cheered Warren's speech. Dr. Jacobi certainly would have been thrilled to see a female senator in a position to defend women's health care rights, since she herself spent her later years devoted to demanding the right for women to vote and participate in the political process. But she would have most likely been disappointed to realize that, more than a century later, women's health remained a subject about which so many are still so uninformed. Senator Warren was facing a room of men with the same ignorant ideology that Dr. Jacobi had faced her entire career. But like Senator Warren, Dr. Jacobi was determined to make her voice, and her scientific knowledge, heard.

Literature First
Born in 1842 in London, Mary (called Minnie by her family) Putnam moved with her family back to their home, New York City, when she was quite young. Mary's father, George, was a publisher, founding the company which is known today as G. P. Putnam & Sons, an imprint of Penguin Publishing. Mary was first educated mainly at home by her mother, whose primary interest was in instilling a love of great literature in her daughter. Mary began writing at a young age, and by the age of 16 had written a piece of short fiction, Found and Lost, which her father considered good enough to be published. She received $80 for the piece when it was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1860.

Mary enjoyed writing, but had a much greater curiosity about the world around her. After spending two years at a new public school for girls and graduating in 1859, she began to study Greek and science with private tutors. But perhaps the most important part of her early education came from time spent studying medicine with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who just ten years earlier was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.

Mary Putnam as a medical student
The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute,
Harvard University, photograph by Bogardus
Liberté, Égalité, and Medical Studies
Medicine and its study became the driving force in Mary's life. She served as a medical aide during the Civil War, and received degrees from the New York College of Pharmacy and the Female (later "Women's") Medical College of Pennsylvania. After a short time of practicing medicine, Dr. Putnam (as she was now entitled to be called) decided she needed more study to be truly effective. She headed to Paris in 1866 to request admittance at the École de Médecine of the University of Paris.

Women in medicine were no more common in France than in the U.S. at the time, and the men of the profession seemed unsure of how to treat her. When Mary asked to be admitted to a dissection room, the professor agreed - if she would dress in men's clothing. Mary, of course, found this to be ridiculous. She refused, and was allowed to attend dressed as she saw fit. The professor was impressed with her, and later supported her application to the École de Médecine itself, making her the first woman admitted. (She would later become the second woman to graduate.)

The Question of Rest
Mary returned from Paris and took an especial interest in the Women's Medical College where she had studied. Mary and others felt standards there were not as high as they should be, and she joined in the effort to make the school a respected place of learning for women interested in medicine. Dr. Emily Blackwell later said:
It was at the time of the greatest difficulty and discouragement for women students and practitioners...It was at this opportune moment that Dr Putnam arrived... She brought as her contribution to the new work an enthusiastic love of the scientific side of medicine and a high standard of medical education...To many of the women students flocking to New York she was an inspiration, and not a few of them owed to her their first conception of the breadth and serious importance of the great field of medicine to which they were seeking entrance...She was an unsparing and outspoken critic of shallow knowledge, slip shod methods, and hollow pretence in any shape.
A reprint of Dr. Clarke's study
Read the full study here.
But as Dr. Putnam was working to win respect for women seeking education in fields like medicine, others were continuing to insist women simply weren't capable of higher education at all. In 1873, Dr. Edward H. Clarke of Harvard published Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for the Girls. Despite the title, there was nothing "fair" about Clarke's conclusions. He claimed that women who didn't rest during menstruation would damage their reproductive organs. Therefore, he argued, women were unable to compete in higher education and professional careers without doing themselves harm.

Mary, who by now had married pioneering pediatrician Dr. Abraham Jacobi, knew these claims were hogwash. What's more, she set about proving Dr. Clarke wrong, using the best scientific and research methods available to her at the time. She spent more than a year producing a 200-page study, The Question of Rest for Women during Menstruation, published in 1876. The National Library of Medicine website notes, "Dr. Jacobi provided tables, statistics, and sphygmographic tracings of pulse rate, force, and variations to illustrate the stability of a woman's health, strength, and agility throughout her monthly cycle. Both her paper and her example offered irrefutable proof of the accuracy of her position." Her work won her respect from her peers - and the Boylston Prize from Harvard University.

Jacobi's work; full text available here
Votes for Women
Throughout her busy and varied medical career, Mary remained interested in the betterment of society in general, giving lectures to working women and helping them organize the Working Women's Society. In 1894, that general interest turned to a specific passion for a woman's right to vote, eventually leading to the publishing of another major work, Common Sense Applied to Woman Suffrage. Once again, she applied research and hard facts to make her case. She examined the 15th Amendment in detail and traced the history of women's education, legal status, and marital rights. She concluded toward the end of the book:
The extreme ignorance of the subject shown in the written protests... are natural to the inexperience of people who begin to talk volubly about what they themselves profess to have hardly ever thought. The gist of the opposition lies chiefly in the dread of innovation... an instinct intensified, moreover, by innumerable forces of tradition, training, and environment. Opposition to what is new, necessarily subsides so soon as the new has become the customary... Let the women try their hand! (Common Sense Applied to Woman Suffrage, p. 192)
Mary used more refined words than Senator Elizabeth Warren did over a century later, but the basic ideas remain the same. Let women decide what is best for women - and learn the facts before you open your mouth to speak.

What She Won, She Won Fairly
Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi displayed a true interest in exploring and understanding the world around her throughout her entire life, and that quality was to carry her along right to the end of her years. She died in 1906 of a brain tumor, but rather than spending her final days lamenting her time cut short, she instead continued her work. Her final publication was titled Description of the Early Symptoms of the Meningeal Tumor Compressing the Cerebellum. From Which the Writer Died. Written by Herself.

Her eulogy to herself might have been cold and clinical in nature, but those speaking at her memorial, held in early 1907, were much more eloquent. They spoke of her own education and determination to allow other women the same and better opportunities. They praised her scientific mind and open heart. A fellowship was already planned in her name to continue the fine work she had begun. Dr. Charles L. Dana, one of her colleagues, explained how she had earned respect for herself and for all deserving women in the future:
[I]t was her character and the influence upon the community of such a woman following the profession of medicine that will constitute her greatest memorial. Dr Jacobi was a woman with talents almost amounting to genius, joined to the highest ideals in the practice of her art and in the conduct of life. Therefore that such a woman became a doctor, ennobled the calling and made it an easier and more dignified thing for women later to follow it. This is what we medical men all felt about her, irrespective of her specific scientific accomplishments.

We all liked Dr Jacobi very much as a woman and as a woman physician She had no pettiness or jealousies that we could ever discover. I never heard her speak harshly of any one and I never heard any one speak harshly of her. What she won she won fairly and because her talents commanded it and we recognized it.

Learn More: