Einstein's Advice to Women in Science Still Relevant More Than 60 Years Later

Illustration for article titled Einstein's Advice to Women in Science Still Relevant More Than 60 Years Later

In September of 1946, Albert Einstein received a letter from a precocious South African girl by the name of Tyfanny.


Tyfanny had written Einstein before — the prominent physicist had even maintained a correspondence with her, despite being at the apex of his career at the time. But Tyfanny had forgotten to include a detail about herself in her previous letters, a detail that she felt needed to be brought to light. She explained:

I forgot to tell you, in my last letter, that I was a girl. I mean I am a girl. I have always regretted this a great deal, but by now I have become more or less resigned to the fact. Anyway, I hate dresses and dances and all the kind of rot girls usually like. I much prefer horses and riding. Long ago, before I wanted to become a scientist, I wanted to be a jockey and ride horses in races. But that was ages ago, now. I hope you will not think any the less of me for being a girl!

To which Einstein promptly replied:

I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it.

Einstein's message is as relevant now as it was in 1946. As Maria Popova points out over on Brain Pickings, the gender imbalance in the sciences today is arguably more pronounced than in any other field. Much of this has to do with the significant bias that the female scientist must overcome, but equally poisonous are those thoughts that dissuade women from pursuing scientific careers, simply because they are women.

If women in the sciences are to "resign to a fact" as Tyffany did, it should be the fact that science, above all else, is about ideas — and ideas could not be less concerned about something as trivial as gender. [Spotted on Brain Pickings]




Not to take away from the message about gender bias and women in science careers, but Einstein's quote just doesn't seem that impressive to me. He say's he doesn't mind that she's a girl. Not exactly a rallying cry to end gender bias. And while he does acknowledge that it's important how she feels about herself, this quote is so lukewarm, that it seems it's only noteworthiness is that it was said by Einstein. I do think it's cool that he actually answered letters from school children though.