Women in Science:
Trails and Trials of a Phenomenal Five

March - July 2006

Tree of Life

Women have always contributed to the world of science. Often their trails were long, their trials numerous and exhausting. Their contributions to society and the scientific community have been invaluable. Through the use of the Evans Library's resources, "Women in Science: Trails and Trials of a Phenomenal Five" tells the story of five women scientists, out of the thousands who have made a remarkable impact on our world.

"When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future."
- Last journal entry of Dian Fossey before her death in 1985

Dian Fossey (1932-1985)

Mountain Gorilla Researcher

Mount Gahinga and Mount Muhabura, on the Rwanda/Uganda border
Location of the Karisoke Research Center

Trails and Trials of Dian Fossey

"Dian Fossey became interested in Africa and made a six-week trip there in 1963. At Olduvai Gorge, she met Dr. Louis Leakey who impressed on her the importance of doing research on great apes. This meeting inspired her to study mountain gorillas.

Determined to work in Africa, Dian won support from the National Geographic Society and the Wilkie Foundation in 1966 for a research program in the Zaire. Political upheaval there forced her to move to Rwanda, where in 1967 she established Karisoke, a research camp in the Parc National des Volcans. In 1970 , her efforts to get the gorillas to habituate to her presence were finally rewarded when Peanuts, an adult male, touched her hand. This was the first friendly gorilla to human contact ever recorded." Source

"Throughout her life, Dian exhibited an iron will to achieve her goals. In 1963, during the course of her African safari, (which, despite offers of help, she insisted on financing herself with her own savings and a bank loan), she presented herself unannounced on the tent doorstep of the world-renowned Leakeys at their Olduvai archeological site. Her brazenness may have impressed Louis Leakey, for he did not turn her away immediately, thus setting the stage for their 1966 "historic" encounter at his public lecture in Louisville, Kentucky. Within the following year, Fossey returned to Africa to officially begin her study of mountain gorillas, after a voluntary appendectomy on the heels of a small remark about it by Leakey. Her most-loved gorilla, "Digit," who first accepted her presence and appeared to take an equal interest in her, was brutally killed and dismembered by poachers. She responded, turning personal tragedy into action, by founding the Digit Fund, the forerunner of today's Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. She was murdered in her cabin in 1985, just four years before a new census showed that, at long last, the gorilla population had reversed its dreaded downward path. Clearly Dian Fossey was remarkable. Moreover, what makes Dian Fossey unforgettable is not only her extraordinary story, but also that she reminds us of how our own character traits -- positively or negatively perceived-- have the potential to lead to remarkable achievements." Source

Rosalind E. Franklin (1920 - 1958)

Molecular Biologist, Geneticist

Rosalind Franklin's famous photo of DNA
(aka: Photo 51)

Trails and Trials of Rosalind Franklin

"I went once to a public meeting of a local school board and heard a man stand up to demand that science requirements for girls be dropped from the high-school curriculum because he had a daughter, and he 'didn't want her to group up like that woman Rosy-what's-her-name in that book.' I think I wept. It was not much consolation to know that the high-school curriculum is fixed beyond the meddling of local boards at the demand of local extremists. But that man has a daughter, for all I know an intelligent and gifted one, and I do not really like to contemplate her future."- Ann Sayre, Rosalind Franklin and DNA, pl 196. source

"DNA was thought to consist of sugar and phosphates in long chains of some unknown shape. It also appeared to have just four other chemical ingredients, called bases. But how could such a simple molecule be responsible for the diversity of all life on Earth? Some believed that discovering the structure of DNA would lead to an answer. That was Franklin's assignment when she arrived at King's College London, in January 1951.

In April of 1953, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins identified the substance of life -- the structure of DNA. They later shared a Nobel Prize. Their discovery depended heavily on the work of a woman, chemist Rosalind Franklin, whose research was used without her knowledge or permission. Watson's memoir of the discovery dismisses Franklin as frumpy, hostile, and unimaginative. A later work by a friend casts Franklin as a feminist icon, cheated of recognition...it was Franklin's photograph of the DNA molecule that sparked a scientific revolution. Wilkins showed Watson the photo [above], and, Watson said, 'My jaw fell open and my pulse began to race.' The photo showed, for the first time, the essential structure of DNA, the double-helix shape, which also indicated its method of replication. She did not know the other men were using her research upon which to base the article that appeared in the journal Nature [April 25, 1953]." source

In 1956, Rosalind Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. There is thought that she contracted this from her work around x-ray machines. She died two years later. In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins accepted the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. None of their Nobel lectures cited any of Franklin's work.

Dr. Patrica Bath (1942 -     )

Surgeon, Inventor, Ophthalmologist

"Believe in the power of truth. Do not allow your mind to be imprisoned by majority thinking. Remember that the limits of science are not the limits of the imagination."
- Dr. Patricia Bath to Middle School students

Trails and Trials of Dr. Patricia Bath

"The family lived in Harlem, a New York neighborhood some regarded as impoverished or dangerous. It did not seem that way to Bath: "To me, it was home and a place of happy memories, and I grew up believing I was rich.' Her parents gave her a strong set of values that included a love of family above material things, self-reliance, and a hunger for learning. "They believed that with enough education, I could own the world.' In 1959, she was selected for a National Science Foundation summer program for high-school students at Yeshiva University. In that program, at the age of sixteen, she did innovative work in cancer research that made national headlines. Though inexperienced and shy, she was encouraged to believe in the power of her ideas. Bath completed high school in two-and-a-half years and went on to study chemistry and physics at Hunter College in New York (B.A., 1964). Her medical training was at Howard University in Washington, D.C. 'Going to Howard, a historically black college, was good,' she says, 'because I had never been exposed to black professors as an undergraduate at Hunter College. It was electrifying and uplifting to be exposed to black people who represented academic excellence, and I had wonderful mentors.' With her M.D. degree (1968, with honors) from Howard's College of Medicine, she returned to New York. She was an intern at Harlem Hospital (1968-69) and completed a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University (1969-70). Bath was also instrumental in bringing ophthalmic surgical services to Harlem Hospital's Eye Clinic, which had not previously performed eye surgery. She persuaded her professors at Columbia to operate on blind patients there for free, and she volunteered as an assistant surgeon. Following her internship, Bath completed her training at New York University (1970-73), where she was the first African-American resident in ophthalmology.

In 1975, she became the first woman faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. By 1983, she was the chair of the Ophthalmology Residency Training Program (which she co-founded) at Drew/UCLA, the first woman in the country ever to hold such a position. In 1976, Bath and three colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness (AIPB), an organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, and restore the gift of sight. They have funded it largely through their own contributions and donations of equipment solicited from manufacturers. The AIPB is based on the principle that eyesight is a basic human right and that primary eye care must be made available to all people, everywhere, regardless of their economic status. It was in 1981 also that she first conceived of an invention that would use a laser to remove cataracts, a cloudiness that forms in the lens of an eye, causing blurry or distorted vision, or even blindness. Doctors have treated cataracts with traditional surgery or, more recently, ultrasound, to remove the clouded lens. An artificial lens can then be inserted. But Bath envisioned a way to make the surgery faster, easier, more accurate, and less invasive (with a much smaller incision) by using lasers. Later she named it the Laserphaco Probe. It consists of an optical laser fiber surrounded by irrigation and aspiration (suction) tubes.

Her greatest passion, however, is fighting blindness. Bath continues to direct the AIPB and hopes one day to establish a new center known as the World Eye Institute, dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of blindness. Her "personal best moment" happened on a humanitarian mission in North Africa, when she restored the sight of a woman who had been blind for thirty years by implanting a keratoprosthesis. "The ability to restore vision is the ultimate reward,' she says."

Patricia Bath's U.S. patents:

  • Pat. No. 4,7443,60: Apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses, issued 17 May 1988.
  • Pat. No. 5,843,071: Method and apparatus for ablating and removing cataract lenses, issued 1 December 1998.
  • Pat. No. 5,919,186: Laser apparatus for surgery of cataractous lenses, issued 6 July 1999.
  • Pat. No. 6,083,192: Pulsed ultrasound method for fragmenting/emulsifying and removing cataractous lenses, issued 4 July 2000.

Find out more about patents at http://www.uspto.gov/main/patents.htm.

Dr. Barbara McClintock (1902 - 1992)

Geneticist - Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Dr. McClintock was awarded many other honors including the National Medal of Science (1970), the U.S. government's highest science award, the Rosenteil Award, and the Kimber Genetics Award (1967). She became a Prize Fellow Laureate of the MacArthur Foundation in 1980.

"If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off…no matter what they say."
-Barbara McClintock

Trails and Trials of Barbara McClintock

"On December 7, 1941, genetic scientist Barbara McClintock arrived at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory complex and began a 50-year tenure that would see her discover 'jumping genes', and win a Nobel Prize in Physiology. The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences established Cold Spring Harbor in 1880 as a fish hatchery, but in 1890 shifted its focus to proving or refuting Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. By the 1930's, the combined institutions that made up the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories were among the most respected in the United States. Unable to gain tenure at the University of Missouri because of her gender, Barbara McClintock came to Cold Spring Harbor in 1941 to further her research on multi-colored 'Indian corn'. In a small field near the harbor, McClintock meticulously crossed different strains of corn and eventually realized that Indian corn's random coloration was produced by a 'jumping gene' that turned some kernals red and others yellow.

When McClintock announced her findings, scientists concluded that maize's genetic makeup was 'unique', and that it didn't apply 'generally', since current theories erroneously stated that genes held permanent positions like beads on a string. Her peers' 'lack of enthusiasm' for her work greatly disappointed McClintock, and she eventually stopped publishing. In the 1970's, however, new research proved McClintock's findings correct. 'Jumping genes' were a common genetic occurrence in plants and animals. In the last 20 years, McClintock's theories have spawned entire new fields of research. In 1983, at the age of 81, Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine."

Right: Barbara McClintock teaching students and receiving the Nobel Prize in 1983.

Read Barbara McClintock's Nobel Banquet speech.

Beatrix Potter (1866 - 1943)


Trails and Trials of Beatrix Potter

"During family holidays, Beatrix discovered the beauty of fungi at Dalguise, learning much about them from the local postman, Charles Mclntosh. She became knowledgeable about obscure species and studied their propagation. Eventually she had over 250 drawings of fungi, over 40 of different mosses and many microscope studies of the process of germination. Her theory on this process was presented in the form of a paper 'On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae' to the leading scientists of the day at a meeting of the Linnean Society. Although it was proved to be right in later years, it was not then considered tenable."
Beatrix Potter

Agaricus campestris and Collybia peronata
Watercolor examples of fungi painted by Beatrix Potter

"Waiting for the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens to appear, the young woman stood, silent and watchful, in the shadow of the trees. Beatrix Potter was half-inclined to flee. Her theories on symbiosis, which she had written up in a paper on the germination of spores, went beyond what was known in 1896, and she needed a sponsor. But the Director of the Gardens had no time for her or her discoveries. She watched two women assistants at work, and after learning that they were 'obliged to wear knickerbockers,' she wrote in her journal, using a code alphabet of her invention, that the director 'may be a misogynist.'

Following Beatrix Potter's death in 1943 at the age of seventy-seven, Leslie Linder, an engineer whose leisure-time hobby was collecting Potter drawings, heard that a bundle of pages in keyless code had been found in the farmhouse of the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Challenged, Linder worked on and off for years trying to break the code. He finally succeeded in 1958, but it took him several more years to decipher the diary. Beatrix Potter's Journal, covering the years from 1881-1897, was published in 1966, and in it can be found the story of her efforts to present her theories to the scientific authorities of the time, who reacted as though 'one must not speak to them.'"
- "The Secret Life of Beatrix Potter", Naomi Gilpatrick, Natural History, Oct. 1972

Resources on Display Include:

Rosalind Franklin and DNA Anne Sayre QP26. F68 S29 1975
Women's History as Scientists: A Guide to the Debates Leigh Ann Whaley Q130 .W46 2003
Primate Societies: Group Techniques of Ecological Adaptation Hans Kummer QL737 .P93 K79 1971
Despite the Odds: Essays on Canadian Women and Science Marianne Gosztonyi Ainley, ed Q130 .D47 1990
Guide to Yeast Genetics and Molecular and Cell Biology. Part B Christine Guthrie and Gerald R. Fink, eds QP601 .M49 V.350
In Vitro Gene Expression in Marine Sponge Cells Stimulated by Phytohemagglutinin Robin Willoughby QH315.25 .W5442 2002
A Molecular Systematic Survey of Cultured Microbial Associates of Deep Water Marine Invertebrates Karen Adrienne Sandell QH315.25 .S26 2003
Signal Transduction Carl-Henrik Heldin and Mary Purton, eds QP517 .C45 S53 1998
History of the Primates: An Introduction to the Study of Fossil Man Wilfred E. Le Gros Clark GN281 .C53 1965
Gorillas in the Mist Dian Fossey QL737 .P96 F67 1983
The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution Carolyn Merchant Q130 .M47 1980
"The Secret Life of Beatrix Potter" Naomi Gilpatrick Natural History, October 1972
Engineering Tomorrow Trudy E. Bell and Dave Dooling T174 .B451 2000
Women in Mathematics and Science National Center for Education Statistics ED 1.109/2-2:11
Protein Engineering Dan E. Robertson and Joseph P. Noel, eds. QP601 .M49 V.388
Behavior of Non-Human Primates: Modern Research Trends   QL737 .P9 B38 V.2
The Phylogenetic Handbook: A Practical Approach to DNA and Protein Physiology Marco Salemi and Anne Mieke Vandamme, eds. QP624 .P485 2003
Biohazards and Zoonotic Problems of Primate Procurement, Quarantine and Research: Proceedings of a Cancer Research Safety Symposium M.L. Simmons, ed. HE 20.3162/2:2
Molecular Biotechnology: Principles and Applications of Recombinant DNA Bernard R. Glick and Jack Pasternak TP248.2 .G58 2003
Advancing Justice Through Forensic DNA Technology United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary Y 4.J 89/1:108/46
Isolation of RNA from Peripheral Blood Cells Nicole T. Vu TD 4.210:04/1
The Use of Nonhuman Primates in Space Richard C. Simmonds and Geoffrey H. Bourne, eds. NAS 1.55: 005

Some Internet Sites Related to Women in Science Include:

4000 Years of Women in Science Biography Listing http://www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS/
Internet Public Library: Scientists and Inventors http://www.ipl.org/div/subject/browse/ref15.75.00/
Her Lab in Your Life: Women in Chemistry http://www.chemheritage.org/women_chemistry/
Women of NASA http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/women/intro.html
Historia: Historical Women in Science http://www.women-scientists-in-history.com/
Women in Science: 16 Significant Contributors http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/
Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/
Notable Delta's (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority) http://www.deltanudst.org/notable.htm
National Women's History Project http://www.nwhp.org/aboutnwhp/index.php

A supplemental brochure provides additional information.

Photo Archive

This site is presented by the Florida Institute of Technology Evans Library Instructional Programs Team.


© Florida Institute of Technology - All rights reserved