Herschel made no bones about the fact that a female assistant, even his sister, would cost half as much as a male. It is possible to be indignant about this, but contemporary standards must be taken into account. Female domestic servants were paid £10 per annum, while a highly trained governess like Mary Wollstonecraft was paid £40 per annum by Lord Kingsborough in 1787. In fact a £60 stipend would have been handsome, exactly one-fifth of that paid to the Astronomer Royal. In Europe women who wanted to pursue science, like Voltaire’s beautiful mathematician Madame du Châtelet, or later Marie-Anne Paulze (Madame Lavoisier), simply had to have supportive or (even better) dead husbands, or private incomes. In Britain they had to be schoolteachers or children’s textbook writers, preferably both: like Margaret Bryan (astronomy), Priscilla Wakefield (botany) or Jane Marcet (chemistry). Only in the next generation was it possible to have a career like the physicist Mary Somerville, and (eventually) have an Oxford college named after you. But then, Caroline did live long enough to exchange letters with Mary Somerville drily remarking on this situation.
All of these people, should they desire, can indicate events and details they remember differently. But there is one unfortunate exception. In 1958, Rosalind Franklin died at the early age of thirty-seven. Since my initial impressions of her, both scientific and personal (as recorded in the early pages of this book), were often wrong, I want to say something here about her achievements. The X-ray work she did at King's is increasingly regarded as superb. The sorting out of the A and B forms, by itse1f, would have made her reputation; even better was her 1952 demonstration, using Patterson superposition methods, that the phosphate groups must be on the outside of the DNA molecule. Later, when she moved to Bemal's lab, she took up work on tobacco mosaic virus and quickly extended our qualitative ideas about helical construction into a precise quantitative picture, definitely establishing the essential helical parameters and locating the ribonucleic chain halfway out from the central axis.
Because I was then teaching in the States, I did not see her as often as did Francis, to whom she frequently came for advice or when she had done something very pretty, to be sure he agreed with her reasoning. By then all traces of our early bickering were forgotten, and we both came to appreciate greatly her personal honesty and generosity, realizing years too late the struggles that the intelligent woman faces to be accepted by a scientific world which often regards women as mere diversions from serious thinking. Rosalind's exemplary courage and integrity were apparent to all when, knowing she was mortally ill, she did not complain but continued working on a high level until a few weeks before her death.
Instead of being ashamed that so little has been hitherto done by female abilities, in science and in useful literature, I am surprised that so much has been effected. Till of late, women were kept in Turkish ignorance; every means of acquiring knowledge was discountenanced by fashion, and impracticable even to those who despised fashion. Our books of science were full of unintelligible jargon, and mystery veiled pompous ignorance from public contempt; but now, writers must offer their discoveries to the public in distinct terms, which everybody may understand; technical language will no longer supply the place of knowledge, and the art of teaching has been carried to great perfection by the demand for leaming: all this is in favour of women. Many things, which were thought to be above their comprehension, orunsuited to their sex, have now been found to be perfectly within the compass of their abilities, and peculiarly suited to their situation. Botany has become fashionable; in time it may become useful, if it be not so already. Science has 'been enlisted under the banners of imagination, by the irresistible charms of genius; by the same power her votaries will be led from the looser analogies which dress out the imagery of poetry, to the stricter ones which form the ratiocination of philosophy. (Maria Edgeworth, 1795, pp. 64-6)
Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that renowned scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose leaming is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess that I am inferior to no one.'^
Moslem women scholars are not recorded in the historical texts, their existence is at least testified to by stories from the / Arabian Nights.^^
The compelling legend of the Arab slave-girl Tawaddud reminds us that even the most patriarchal of cultures have recognised the scholarly achievements of women. Her story occupied Shaharazad from the 436th through the 462nd of the Arabian nights. When Abu al-Husn of Baghdad found himself destitute, his beautiful young slave Tawaddud proposed that he offer her to the Caliph Harun al-Rashid for an exorbitant price on account of her exceptional abilities. So the Caliph summoned to his palace Ibrahim, the brilliant rhetorician, who brought along readers of the Koran, doctors of law and medicine, astrologers, scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, all for the purpose of examining the extraordinary claims of the slave girl. First, Tawaddud was tested on every aspect of the Koran and its laws. When she had answered each question correctly. she put to the Koranist a question that he was unable to answer. The unfortunate scholar forfeited his clothes and was sent away humiliated. Next a physician questioned her on physiology. Tawaddud described in detail the veins, bones and internal organs of the body, and the relation of the four elements to the four humours and humoural disease. She elucidated the internal and external symptoms of disease, emphasising the importance of a reasonable and moderate diet and cautioning against the common medical practices of bleeding and cupping. She quoted Galen and answered all questions put to her.Then Tawaddud, in tum, posed a riddle for the physician who replied in fmstration: 'O Commander of the Faithful, bear witness against me that this damsel is more leamed than I in medicine and what else, and that I cannot cope with her' Burton p. 227). A philosopher quizzed her on the nature of time and ceded to her when she correctly solved a story problem in arithmetic. Finally she triumphed over Ibrahim himself, despite his elaborate efforts to trap her.
The Caliph paid Abu al-Husn 100,000 gold pieces for Tawaddud and offered to grant her any request - she asked to return to her master and together they joined the court of the Caliph where, presumably, they lived happily ever after.
Medicine was an established profession in Egypt prior to 3000 BC and educated women worked as doctors and surgeons. The medical schools at Sais and Heliopolis attracted women students and teachers from throughout the ancient world. At the Temple of Sais north of Memphis an inscription reads: 'I have come from the school of medicine at Heliopolis, and have studied at the woman's school at Sais where the divine mothers have taught me how to cure disease.'' Moses and his wife Zipporah probably studied medicine at Heliopolis about 1500 BC and Zipporah may also have attended the school at Sais. During this era, the physician-queen Hatshepsut of the eighteenth dynasty despatched a botanical expedition to search for new medicinal plants.
The medical papyri discuss gynaecology, the speciality of women physicians. The Kahun medical papyrus (c. 2500 BC) may have been written for the Sais students. It indicates that women specialists diagnosed pregnancy, guessed at the sex of the unborn child (if the mother's face was green it would be a boy), tested for sterility and treated dysmenorrhoea (irregular menstruation). Women surgeons performed caesarian sections, removed cancerous breasts and set bones with splints. 'Physician' was often synonymous with 'priestess', for in the earliest records it was the goddess Isis who prescribed the cure.
The most important of all the goddesses of antiquity was Isis, the Mother Goddess of the early Egyptians. Women retained a prominent place in Egyptian civilisation longer than in neighbouring Neolithic societies and Isis was often represented as promoting equality for all people. Perhaps this was why Isis cults were particularly attractive to women, commoners and slaves. These cults flourished in Rome and throughout the Mediterranean well into the Christian era.
The attributes of Isis and the rituals associated with her worship were typical of goddesses world-wide. Isis gave the indigenous people of the Nile their laws, religion, writing and medicine (as did Ishtar for the Assyrians); she invented the embalming process and the science of alchemy; most importantly, she taught the Egyptians agricultur patroness of navigation and commerce nerhans because she patroness of navigation and commerce, perhaps because she was credited with inventing the sailing boat. As her cult spread, she became identified with innumerable other Mediterranean goddesses.
while lacking the supreme power of Isis, Pallas Athena, the patroness of Athens (Roman Minerva) was another all-purpose goddess, and one of the most important Greek deities. She symbolised wisdom (her symbol was the owl) and purity, and like Isis, AthenaMinerva was credited with many of the major advances made by women during the long millennia of prehistory. As the goddess of agriculture she invented the plough and bridle, and taught the Greeks to yoke oxen and tame horses. She created the olive tree and first pressed olive oil. She also presided over crafts, and thus invented the cart, iron weapons and armour (as goddess of war, she symbolised Strategy). She invented numbers and made the first flute, although she never learned to play it.
Women were usually credited with the invention of spinning and weaving. Isis, Athena and Minerva all taught their peoples to spin and weave linen. The Egyptian Neith, like Athena, ruled over the unlikely combination of war and the domestic sciences, including weaving. But Pliny's Natural History credited a mortal woman, Pamphile of Cea in Greece, with first picking cotton and learning to comb it, spin it into thread on a distaff and weave it into cloth.'* The Story is also told of Arachne of Colophon, an Asian peasant woman who discovered the uses of woven cloth and invented nets for catching fish or birds. But she was a foolhardy woman who boasted that she was a better weaver than Minerva. The goddess, hearing of this conceit, challenged her to a weaving contest. Some say that Arachne lost to Minerva, others that the two were judged to be equal. Either way Minerva was furious. In a rage she slit Arachne's net and beat her with a shuttle. Then, overcome with shame, Arachne hanged herself and Minerva turned her into a spider so that she could continue to weave. (Whether Minerva acted out of anger or remorse presumably depends on how one feels about spiders.)
That women were acquainted with mathematical principles is illustrated by the story of Dido (whose name means heroic). When her brother, King Pygmalion of the Phoenician centre of Tyre, to seize her husband's money. While sailing away, she pretended to throw the money overboard, thus successfully sidetracking her pursuers. Eventually she landed on the coast of North Africa where she founded the great city of Carthage. A clever businesswoman, she offered to buy the land for her city from the natives, and to pay a Specified price for as much land as could be enclosed by a bull's hide. She then proceeded to solve the mathematical problem of enclosing a maximum area within a fixed perimeter. She cut the hide into very thin strips and tied them end to end, enclosing a semi-circle bounded on one side by the sea. She had solved a problem whose mathematical proof was finally achieved in the nineteenth century.
rhe systematic development of knowledge and technology that we all 'science' originated in the millennia of prehistory, and early vomen were among these first 'scientists'. They invented tools, accumulated knowledge about edible and medicinal plants, and 3robably discovered 'the chemistry of pot-making, the physics of spinning, the mechanics of the loom, and the botany of flax anc ;otton'.i These developments occurred over long periods of time arising independently in different parts of the world. Progress •esulted from the activities of many individuals, both male anc female, for most early societies were probably egalitarian, with women involved in every aspect of subsistence and therefore in every aspect of developing science and technology.
Traditionally anthropologists have emphasised the skills a tools or weapons) of 'Man the Hunter'; but until recently they have ignored the knowledge and tools acquired by 'Woman the Food Gatherer'. Gathering, rather than hunting, was the primary subsis¬ tence activity of our early ancestors, and women gatherers were th first 'botanists'. Through a process of experimentation they learned to distinguish between hundreds of plants at various stages of growth; they identified locations and habitats; named species and varieties; and discovered methods for neutralising or removing poisons from otherwise edible vegetation. Food-gathering requires a concept of time, and prehistoric women learned to relate astronomical events, such as the phases of the moon or the rising of a star, to seasons and the availability of plant products. Their ability to exploit new sources of vegetable sustenance improved steadily over thousands of years, each generation passing on its cumulative knowledge.
Women have always been healers, surgeons and midwives. As gatherers they discovered the medicinal properties of plants and learned how to dry, store and mix botanicals. Through experimentation and careful observation they discovered which herbs provided effective treatment for various ailments. It can be argued that there was little improvement in medical science from the prehistoric woman botanist experimenting with roots and herbs, until the discovery of sulpha drugs and antibiotics in the twentieth century.
An adult white woman differs far more from a white man than a negress or pigmy woman from her equivalent male. The education, the mental disposition, of a white or Asiatic woman, reeks of sex; her modesty, her decorum is not to ignore sex but to refine and put a point to it; her costume is clamorous with the distinctive elements of her form. The white woman in the materially prosperous nations is more of a sexual specialist than her sister of the poor and austere peoples, of the prosperous classes more so than the peasant woman. The contemporary woman of fashion who sets the tone of occidental intercourse is a stimulant rather than a companion for a man. Too commonly she is an unwholesome stimulant turning a man from wisdom to appearance, from beauty to beautiful pleasures, from form to colour, from persistent aims to belief and stirring triumphs. Arrayed in what she calls distinctly %u201Cdress,%u201D scented, adorned, displayed, she achieves by artifice a sexual differentiation profounder than that of any other vertebrated animal. She outshines the peacock's excess above his mate, one must probe among the domestic secrets of the insects and crustacea to find her living parallel...Are we going to recognise and accentuate this difference and to arrange our Utopian organisation to play upon it, are we to have two primary classes of human being, harmonising indeed and reacting, but following essentially different lives, or are we going to minimise this difference in every possible way?
The former alternative leads either to a romantic organisation of society in which men will live and fight and die for wonderful, beautiful, exaggerated creatures, or it leads to the hareem. It would probably lead through one phase to the other. Women would be enigmas and mysteries and maternal dignitaries that one would approach in a state of emotional excitement and seclude piously when serious work was in hand. A girl would blossom from the totally negligible to the mystically desirable at adolescence, and boys would be removed from their mother's educational influence at as early an age as possible. Whenever men and women met together, the men would be in a state of inflamed competition towards one another, and the women likewise, and the intercourse of ideas would be in suspense. Under the latter alternative the sexual relation would be subordinated to friendship and companionship; boys and girls would be co-educated%u2014very largely under maternal direction, and women, disarmed of their distinctive barbaric adornments, the feathers, beads, lace, and trimmings that enhance their clamorous claim to a directly personal attention would mingle, according to their quality, in the counsels and intellectual development of men.