Alembic Blog

An Introduction to the Arts & Sciences Owned by Three 18th & 19th Century Women

This illustration of the solar system is from the second edition of Richard Turner's An Easy Introduction to the Arts and Sciences, published in 1787. Our copy is particularly special, as it contains the ownership signatures of three different women —"Margarate [sic] Haymes", "Mary Ann White", and "Mary Hantt" — making it an excellent example of changes in middle and upper class British women's education during the Georgian Era.

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A Rare Biographical Sketch of Rosalind Franklin by Her Mother

Dying at age 38 is a tragedy for anyone, but it is a double tragedy when that person is potentially a Nobel Prize winner with many more years of productive science ahead of them. When biochemist Rosalind Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958, only a few years after her work contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA, her mother was distraught not only for the loss of a child but for the international recognition that her daughter had not achieved in life. The result of her grief was this touching autobiographical sketch, Rosalind, published privately a few years later, ostensibly for the much-loved nieces and nephews who would grow up with only dim memories of their aunt.

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To Miss Whitbread from Her Friend & Admirer: A Regency-Era Trigonometry Presentation

Today we continue our series of Ada Lovelace Day posts with this superb Regency-Era book on trigonometry that was finely bound and inscribed from the author to a young woman named Elizabeth Whitbread in 1810.

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Victorian Women & STEM Education: A Prize Book Awarded by the Edinburgh Ladies' Educational Association

Tomorrow is Ada Lovelace Day, when we celebrate women in the sciences, so over the next few days I'll be highlighting recent acquisitions that show the long history of women's engagement with STEM subjects. The first is a copy of John Herschel's Outlines of Astronomy that's directly connected to the Victorian movement for women's higher education.

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A Wheel Within a Wheel: Bicycles & Women's Rights

As specialist in science and technology I'm not interested in discoveries and inventions only for their own sake, but also for how they affect people's everyday lives, sometimes in unexpected ways. A wonderful example is the adoption of the bicycle by late-19th century women as both a practical tool and a symbol of freedom. In A Wheel Within A Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle (1895), the American suffragist leader Frances Willard describes her attempts to master this new technology, as well her belief that the bicycle will transform women's lives and their fight for equal rights.

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Bringing Some Culture to the Physicists: Nina Byers & Richard Feynman

This first edition of Richard Feynman's The Theory of Fundamental Processes is from the library of the pioneering female physicist Nina Byers (1930-2014), who made important contributions to particle physics and superconductivity and had a humorous personal connection with Feynman, earning her a mention in Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman.

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How Men (and Women) Fly: Gertrude Bacon & Early Aviation

'Have you ever seen a man fly?' A few years ago this question was too ridiculous to be worth answering seriously. A very few years hence it will be equally pointless. As well ask, 'Have you ever seen a man drive a motor-car, or ride a bicycle, or push a wheelbarrow?'

 So wrote the inimitable Gertrude Bacon, the first Englishwoman to fly in a plane, in the opening lines of How Men Fly, a significant early work on aviation.

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A Quaker Education Part 2: Priscilla Wakefield's Introduction to Botany

Last week I wrote about a fascinating mathematics textbook "for the use of young ladies" by a Quaker education reformer, and how members of that religious community played an outsized role in the push for women's education and civil rights. Today I catalogued another book written, with young women in mind, by a Quaker activist: An Introduction to Botany in a Series of Familiar Letters, by Priscilla Wakefield.

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A Quaker Education: William Gawthrop's Arithmetic for Young Ladies

Some of my favourite books to have in the shop are the ones that combine my interests in science and women's history, and today I had the pleasure of cataloguing a rare and delightful book on mathematics for "the use of young ladies". The Scholar's Introduction to Arithmetic; Designed for the Use of Young Ladies and the Junior Classes in Boys' Schools was published by William Gawthrop in Liverpool, probably in the 1820s or early 1830s (an owner's signature in this copy is dated 1832). It speaks to us not only about mathematics teaching in early-19th century Britain, but also about the history of women's education and the role that the Quaker religious community played in its advancement.

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Relics of Rhoda Sale, a Near-Forgotten Female Physicist

In recent decades historians have made great strides in uncovering the hidden history of women in STEM, but many female scientists' stories remain obscure. Most of them were not Nobel Prize winners like Marie Curie, or famous authors such as Rachel Carson, but still talented and hard-working women whose efforts contributed to the progress of science at a time when their gender's participation was often undervalued or rejected outright. We recently acquired an evocative record of one such scientist, the physicist Rhoda Sale.

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