Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department

WOMEN in Early Modern European SCIENCE:

Maria Agnesi, Laura Bassi, Caroline Herschel, Mary Winkelmann Kirch, and Emilie du Chatelet.

Since the beginning of time, women have played a vital role in the understanding of scientific processes. It is scientific women through out the centuries that have shaped our understanding of scientific technology. Approximately half of the human race, being women, has been important to the development of religion, agriculture and medicine. Even though the one way for women scientists to make it into other fields was through the scientific field of botany. A common theme I noticed in my research is that the historians were beginning to acknowledge that women were capable of doing more than gender defined activities, such as domestic duties and child rearing. Another similarity among these scientific women was that they each had published an important or famous work.

For four thousand years, women have worked side by side with the men in their great quest for scientific knowledge and recognition. For example, these women of the past should be included in the discussion of the present and the future. The strength of this arguement depends on recognition of women such as Maria Agnesi, Laura Bassi, Caroline Herschel, Mary Winkelmann Kirch, and Emilie du Chatelet.

Maria Agnesi was a child prodigy who mastered Latin, Hebrew, and Greek by the age of nine. She is by far the most important and extraordinary figure in mathematics during the eighteenth century. She earned the chair for mathematics early in her lifetime. Her most important work Analytical Institutions, was meant only for her brother's use, however, ended up being the most clarified authority on the subject of calculus.

Laura Bassi earned a degree, a lectureship, and a membership into the academy in Italy because of her extensive work in the subject of physics. She made use of the rewards and carved out a position for herself in the scientific community of Bologna in Italy. She also strived to become the head chair- person of Physics there as well. A great honor for this extraordinary female of science. Another fascinating woman was Caroline Herschel. She was honored in every corner of the European continent. One of her landmark achievements was that she became the first woman recognized for her scientific contributions by a king. Her importance to the field of astronomy was that she was the first woman to catalog the existence of nebulae. Despite her mathematical deficiencies, she was a able perform advanced calculations and publish the results. Another big break through was when she discovered a comet. Another prestigious woman scientist to accomplish this feat was Mary Winkelmann Kirch. She accomplished this feat in 1702.

The final prominent woman scientist that will be discussed is Emilie du Chatelet. Like other mathematicians of this time she was a truly unique woman scholar and used her own algebraic formulas and commentaries in her studies. Her most famous work is Institutions de Physique. She also translated Newton's book, Principia, into the French language for her community. Her contributions have helped shape the course of mathematics.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a number of women have contributed enormously to the field of astronomy, mathematics, and physics. It is only now that these women are gaining the respect and notoriety that they deserve. If it was not for these scientific women there would not be college courses devoted to the study of these women in science.

Annotated Bibliography

Abir-Am Pnina G. and Dorinda Outram. Uneasy careers and Intimate Lives: Douglass Series on Women's Lives and Meaning of Gender: Women in Science. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987.

This book develops the science from 1789-1979. The one field of science concentrated on most is the field of botany. This is where many women scientists got their start in science. Women have used this as a stepping stone into other fields of science as well. A special emphasis is also put on the role in educational field of science.


Ashby Ruth and Deborah Gore Ohrn. Women Who Changed the World. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1995.

This book really takes an in depth look at how women's roles have changed in all types of work, including science. A special interest is paid in particular to women scientists on the over all field. There are women of later times mentioned here in the field of science as well including Maria Mitchell, Florence Nightingale, and other women who helped shape the significant role women play in science today.


Cohen, H. Floris. The Scientific Revolution A Historiographical Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

This book deals with all the scientists mentioned in the paper. However, it also talks about other fields that they have looked into and also talks in depth about the books they each have published on their significant discovery in the field of science. The book explores things in excellent order and clarity and is a useful source for anything you need to know about women in the field of science.


Dobson, Andrea K and Katherine Bracher. " A Historic Introduction to Women in Astronomy." Mercury 21 (February 1992) 4-15.

This journal article illustrated the importance of a woman named Caroline Herschel and also other scientific pioneers after the time between 1500-1815. It deals with the breakthrough of womencoming into the world of science. This article discussed her background, the cataloging of nebulae and discovering a comet. This would be a good site for anyone who was interested in the field of astronomy.


Elena, Alberto. "An Introducton to Laura Bassi." Isis 82 (September 1991) 510-518.

This journal article helps research on the background of Laura Bassi. She was a woman scientist who was known for her devoted work in the field of physics. This article makes many references to her work in Bologna where she was made chair for her work. This article also points out the importance of the men in her life and how much they did contribute to her determination.


Logan, Gabriella Berti. "The Desire to Contribute: an Eighteenth Century Italian Woman Of Science." The American Historical Review 99 (June 1994) 785-812.

This journal article stresses the importance of Laura Bassi. She earned a degree, a lectureship, and membership in an academy for her work in the field of physics. She also carved a position out for herself in the scientific community of Bologna.


Mandic, Sasha. Emilie du Chatelet (Atlanta, GA: Agnes Scott College, 1995) http://www.scottlan.edu/lriddle/women/chatelet.html>, March 17, 1998.

This web site article gives a brief synopsis of the biography and life's accomplishments of Emille du Chatelet and concludes with the discussion of her book and her translation of Newton's Principia. 


Mazans, H.J. Agnesi, Maria Gaetana ND http://www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS/AGNESI.html . March 15, 1998.

 This site gives the basic background to Maria Agnesi's accomplishments. She is known  as a mathematician and being a woman who could speak many different languages. This just goes to show how educated she was.


Mazans, H.J. Women in Science. London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

This book is an excellent source of scholarship because it covers such famous scientists as Laura Bassi and it is comprehensive in its shape. In Addition, it covers all different types of sciences from medicine to astronomy.


Morse, Mary. Women Changing Science : Voices From a Field in Transition. New York: Plenum Press, 1995.

In this book, the point is made that historians are acknowledging that women a re capable of doing more with their lives than just domesticated chores and raising children. Another crucial point is that these women have had to fulfill their goals in non suspecting methods.


Nysewander, Melissa. Caroline Herschel (Atlanta, GA: Agnes Scott College, 1995) http://www.scottlan.edu/Iriddle/women/herschel.html, March 14, 1998.

This web site article is an excellent source of scholarly research, plus it details the life and accomplishments of Caroline Herschel. For instance she discovered nebulae and she was capable of calculating measurements without learning her multiplication tables. Also she is honored for her achievements in science all over the world.


Rossiter, Margeret W. Women Scientists in America. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1982.

This book shows how far women have come in the world of science. This book illustrates the many scientists  were recognized for their achievements by prestigious academies such as Yale. This book also points out briefly the important time when men and women were being taught together.


Unlu, Elif. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. (Atlanta, GA: Agnes Scott College, April 1995) http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/agnesi.htm , March 15, 1998.

This web site article is also an excellent reference because it more in depth that the other Agnesi article. This article illustrates the importance of her book clarifying calculus and also about how she was fluent in seven languages by the age of nine.

Watson, Barbara Bellow. Women's Studies "Social Realities". New York: Harper and Row Publishers Inc. 1976.

This book places a special emphasis on the fact that in politics and science women have been criticized and put down. For instance, the author suggests in many writings that men contributed to women's feelings that they are not capable in the fields of science and politics.


4000 Years of Women in Science. ND http://www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS/newsintro.html , March 15, 1998.

This web site article explains that women have always had a scientific passion for their work. This also expresses how science is not gender defined. This article also asserts that women should be on the same level of scholarship as men.

Maria Margarethe Winkelmann Kirch. ND http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/Catalog/Files/kirch_mar.html , March 15, 1998.

This web site article gives the biography and a short description of Maria Kirch's life with her work in the field of astronomy. One of the main highlights is her discovery of the comet in 1702.



This page has had
Hit Counter
hits since 9 February 2007.

URL: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/mariecurie.html
Written by Melanie Filiziani, 1998
Revised by Matt Gingo, November 2000
Copyright MMV Prof. Pavlac's Women's History Site
Questions, Suggestions, Comments? e-mail bapavlacATkings.edu