Women and Science

Metzger, Hélène | Newton, Stahl, Boerhaave et la Doctrine Chimique

  • Second edition, facsimile reissue of this influential work in the history of science, originally published in 1930.

    Hélène Metzger (1889-1944) studied science against the wishes of her father, specialising in crystallography at the Sorbonne. Her first degree was awarded based on her study of lithium chlorate, and her doctoral thesis, submitted in 1918, was on the historical origins of crystallography. “From this beginning, Metzger began her focus on the history of chemistry, particularly French history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She moved away from the ‘great man’ idea of science and focused instead on the importance of lesser-known figures who often held ‘false’ theories... She continued to write the history of ideas as they existed within their particular timeframe” and “was active in history of science organizatios” (Ogilvie, Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, p. 889).

    Metzger was an outsider for most of her life. “This status, doubtless related to her being a woman, especially one with a fairly low self-image, was made possible by Metzger’s economic independence. However, she found recognition and much comfort from a number of great scholars, notably André Lalande in Paris (who arranged a literary prize for her in 1924), and George Sarton at Harvard, the founder and editor of Isis, the major journal in the history of science, with whom she regularly exchanged letters... It is owing to her anti-positivistic historical method, which today is shared by most historians of science, that Metzger’s work is still appreciated and used today. (The late Thomas S. Kuhn’s favorable mention of Metzger in his celebrated The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1962] played a determining role in this respect.)” (Freudenthal, Metzger’s entry in the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women).

    During the Nazi occupation of France Metzger openly embraced her Jewish identity. “She remained in Paris until late 1941 and then moved to Lyon, where, again, she did not hesitate to register as a Jew. During the more than two years she remained there, she took part in an extraordinary enterprise: the “Bureau d'études juives” (Office for Jewish Studies), an informal group of persons—professors, teachers, lawyers, high state officials, publishers, etc.—who had been dismissed from their positions and who met weekly in order to study Judaism. Most of these people had had a very feeble relation to and knowledge of their Jewish roots, and they now gathered in order to learn something about the history of the tradition which was the cause of their misfortune. This was a heroic act of spiritual resistance: ‘in the troubled, dramatic and tragic period through which we live,’Metzger wrote to George Sarton in 1942, ‘[intellectual] effort is the only thing which can maintain us in a physical and moral stability’” (Freudenthal). Metzger was deported to Auschwitz and murdered in March, 1944.

  • ...Nouveau Tirage. Paris: Librairie Scientifique et Technique Albert Blanchard, 1974.

    Octavo. Original grey wrappers printed in black. Contents unopened. Slight creasing of the spine, a few small dark spots to the lower wrapper and a faint spot to the upper wrapper. An excellent copy.