International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Today marks the UN’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Globally, women are still underrepresented in scientific roles, so this is a day to break down barriers and to celebrate science’s heroines, past and present.

SC&A is positively brimming with such heroines across various fields of study and practice, so we’ve picked out a few to shout about.

BOTANY

Dr Margery Knight, a lecturer in botany at the university from 1912 until her retirement in 1954, was a seaweed specialist. She and her students could often be seen scrambling over rocks at the Port Erin marine research station, even after Knight lost her leg in a car accident in 1936.

Dr Knight and her students in August 1942 (A301/2/120)

As well as her scientific contributions, she was known for her generosity and support of students. Dr Burges (Professor of Botany, 1952-1966) wrote her obituary for the University of Liverpool Recorder and noted that:

‘It was I believe completely unappreciated that the “small fund to which she had access,” and from which she helped so many, was in fact her own pocket.’

The high esteem in which she was held is evident from this gift: an album containing messages from staff, former students and members of the scientific community, presented to Knight on her 80th birthday (alongside pressed seaweed).

A page from Knight’s 80th birthday present (D964)

May Rathbone, part of the Liverpool family of politicians, philanthropists and social reformers, initially trained as a doctor at the turn of the 20th century. She went on to become a botanist, an amateur artist and a keen mountaineer. She spent many holidays in Norway and even worked on a glossary of Norwegian botanical terms.  

One of May Rathbone’s botanical drawings (RP XVIII.3.38)

MEDICINE

Knotty Ash-born Phoebe Powell was the first female medical graduate at the University of Liverpool, gaining her MD in 1912. She later married fellow doctor Douglas Bigland.

Over her short life (she died in 1930), she held a variety of medical posts and published widely on venereal disease. She lectured in pathology at the university, was house physician at the Liverpool Stanley Hospital and, on the establishment of the Crofton Recovery Hospital for Women in 1922, became Consulting Physician. In 1926 she set up a Mothers’ Welfare Clinic, dispensing contraceptive advice to women.

Patients enjoying some fresh air convalescence at Crofton Recovery Hospital for Women, where Phoebe Bigland (née Powell) served as physician (RP XVA.3.37)

She was also committed to supporting women in the field of medicine, serving as president of the Liverpool Association of the Federation of Medical Women. In an obituary of Bigland, pioneering surgeon and gynaecologist Frances Ivens-Knowles celebrated her as: ‘a real “live wire” when there was any work for medical women to be done.’  

VETERINARY SCIENCE

Annie Littlejohn graduated as a vet from the University of Liverpool in 1949, and stayed here to lecture on veterinary medicine. After leaving Liverpool, she worked at the Animal Diseases Research Association in Edinburgh and the government’s Central Veterinary Laboratory. 

She mostly focused on farm animals, though clearly she had time for important doggy medicine too.

Annie Littlejohn (right) examines a patient (A31/42)

SCIENCE FICTION

Ahem… not technically a branch of science, we know. But we couldn’t miss this opportunity to shout about some of the fantastic female authors represented in our science fiction collections.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was a US writer and one of the first Black women to achieve mainstream recognition in the SF genre. Her works include the neo-slave narrative Kindred, the Lilith’s Brood and Patternist series of novels, and Fledgling. (PS3552.U827.K51 1988)
Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018) was a prolific, multiple award-winning US writer whose works bring a feminist, anthropological sensibility to the genre. She is perhaps best-known as the creator of the Earthsea fantasy quartet. Rocannon’s World, first published in 1966, was her debut novel. (PS3562.E42.R66 1972)
Joanna Russ (1937-2011) was a US writer and academic, whose landmark 1975 novel The Female Man also brought a fierce, feminist political sensibility to the genre. (PS3568.U763.F32 1975)

James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon, 1915-1987) was a US writer who wrote under a masculine pseudonym until her identity was revealed in 1977. A prolific and complex author, she is notable for her dazzling short stories, the most famous of which is ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ (1973), contained within this volume. (PS3570.I66.A6WA 1979)

Fleas, flies and fire: Micrographia350

Aside

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, published in 1665 is now 350 years old. To celebrate this anniversary of the world’s first illustrated book of microscropy, and the way it changed the way people understood the world, SC&A’s copy is on display in the Victoria Gallery & Museum from today. The exhibition sets it in the context of the contemporary disasters of the Great Fire of London and the plague, and brings the illustrations to life with surprising additions from the Museum’s scientific collections.