Girl Scientists Aren't Mannish At All

Illustration for article titled Girl Scientists Aren't Mannish At All

Meet Mary Summerfield, Ph.D. In 1956, she was one of what American Girl magazine called "thousands of girls now serving as professional scientists." Dr. Summerfield thought more young women (er, girls) would consider science as a career but were afraid it would render them unfeminine spinsters. That's why the caption on her picture stressed she was a "research physicist—and homemaker" who thought "Cosmic rays and cake baking are both lots of fun." Here's how some other women's mags from the 1950s proved that careers in science could be downright girly.


Dr. Gladys Hobby was a Vassar graduate who received her M.D. at Columbia. In 1952, Woman's Home Companion described how she "tended thousands of flasks—as solicitous about her molds as an anxious mother might be about a sick infant." The same article also noted that chemicals were compounded during drug company research "in the hope that they will have valuable properties—just as an experimental cook will invent a new cake in the hope it will taste good." In other words, whipping up a batch of cupcakes gave you practically all the background you needed to be a girl scientist. "How do you make out in the kitchen?" Seventeen asked readers in 1951. "A good chemist needs the kind of imagination, ingenuity and patience that makes a good cook."

No cooking skills? A career in science might still be for you. "One scientist (male) said to us [Seventeen magazine again], 'Women in science? Yes, I think they're fine. You should see the deft way those girls handle animals in the laboratory.' Another one (also male) assured us women's ability for minute work came in handy on many an experiment." Nimble-fingered girls could juggle those lab rats and clean test tubes like nobody's business. Oh, wait, you didn't want to actually be in charge did you?


Annalee Newitz

@wilmawonker: I know I prefer a good pot-washing shed. Especially if it's running Ubuntu. Wait, are there Linux drivers for pot-washing sheds? Maybe I should write one.