10 Female Scientists We Never Learned About


Ashton Bruce

Pictured above: Harriet Brooks, female scientist of the nineteenth century who was the first to realize that elements can change from one to another.

Ashton Bruce, Staff Writer

Men have almost always dominated the field of science in every degree. Women who partook in scientific pursuits were not considered valuable to their male counterparts or did not receive credit for the contributions that they made. The idea that students of North Forsyth High School, or any school for that matter, do not learn about female scientists because they were not plentiful and, therefore, did not affect what we know today is ridiculous. We do not learn about the person who discovered that sex is determined by the twenty-third pair of chromosomes, the X and Y, but God forbid we forget who created the light bulb. To honor the women who were overshadowed by their male rivals, the women who never received credit for their work, and the women whose contributions are not taught to students now, here are ten female scientists we should have learned about in school, but never did.

Nettie Stevens

Nettie Stevens is a female scientist lost in history, losing credit of her huge biological discovery of the sex chromosomes to Thomas Morgan. Although Thomas Morgan was her professor while she attended Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, Stevens professed that she observed all of her work independently from Morgan. Scrutinizing the chromosomes in mealworms, Stevens observed that female mealworms had twenty chromosomes, while male mealworms had nineteen large chromosomes and one smaller one. She then proposed the theory that the twentieth chromosomes in mealworms determined the sex and these chromosomes are formed by combinations of X and Y, or X and X. Although proven that it was indeed Nettie Stevens who made this biological discovery, Thomas Morgan won the Nobel Prize for work he did not accomplish and is falsely credited with Stevens’ discoveries in many textbooks throughout the country.

Harriet Brooks 

Along with being the first woman to study nuclear physics, Harriet Brooks was the first person to realize that elements can change from one to another, which was one of her greatest accomplishments in her career. She was a woman of firsts, as she was also the first person to attend Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, England to graduate with a Master’s degree in 1901. However, even before her graduation, she had been working with famous physicist, Earnest Ruthersford, and had received previous education at the McGill University in Montreal in 1898. In 1903, Brooks returned to McGill to work again with Ruthersford, where she discovered an “emanation” of thorium that she concluded “was a radioactive gas with a molecular weight significantly lower than the molecular weight of the parent-element, thorium” (Birker). This discovery was the central dogma that caused speculation on the hypotheses created by Ruthersford and Frederick Soddy, which stated that radioactivity causes the disintegration of atoms. While Brooks never won any award for her discovery, Ruthersford was awarded with the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1908, and Soddy won the Nobel years later in 1921.

Alice Evans

Born on a farm in Pennsylvania in 1881, no one would have guessed that Alice Evans would have ever moved on from being a school teacher to making medical discoveries without any university education. However, she was offered a free course in Agricultural Science at Cornell University, and, seeing a chance to better her future, she readily accepted the opportunity leading to her graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in science. She was then offered a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, the first scholarship ever offered to a woman, and went on to earn a Master’s degree. Using that, she then became the first permanent female member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Husbandry, and working in the dairy division and using her education in bacteriology, she studied the bacteria in milk from cows where she discovered bacterial infections found in raw milk that caused severe illness. Her work was published in 1918. Her discoveries were doubted due to the fact that she was a woman without a Doctorate’s degree, yet in the late 1920s, scientists reaffirmed her studies. By the 1930s, the government enforced pasteurization of milk laws. With her discovery, Evans was able to prevent the spread of the fever and illness to more people.

Ellen Eglui

Ellen Eglui, a black woman who lived during the late nineteenth century, is known for an invention that greatly increased the health and sanitation for the general population: the clothes wringer. Little is known about Eglui; one thing that is known for certain is, despite her invention that revolutionized sanitation, she did not make much money on it. She sold the patent for $18 to an agent in 1888, who then went on to make a fortune on the idea. When asked why she sold the rights on something that could have made her rich, she answered, “You know I am black, and if it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer. I was afraid to be known because of my color, in having it introduced into the market, that is the only reason.”

Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain, due to prejudice against her gender throughout her life, never made a career out of mathematics, despite her interest and excellence in the field. Even her parents opposed her interest in science and mathematics, but she persevered and learned knowledge from the books in her father’s library, as well as her acquaintanceships with other famous mathematicians.

Born in Paris on April 1, 1776, she was brought up in the Age of Revolution. When she was thirteen, the French Revolution began, and during the time she spent locked in her home due to the fear of danger, she studied mathematics. Her parents thought that it was inappropriate for a female to study such things, and they even went to the measures of taking away her candles before bed so that she would not be able to study at night.. However, their efforts failed, and her parents diagnosed her interest in mathematics as “incurable”. She then went on in 1808 to correspond with German mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss, who worked intensely in number theory. The work interested her, and she wrote to him under the pseudonym, “M. LeBlanc,” to disguise herself from the sexism she was so accustomed to. Though they did not write much, twelve years later,  Germain sent a letter to fellow mathematician that described her most prominently known and revolutionizing theory, which is explained as, ” if x, y, and z are integers and if x^5 + y^5 = z^5 then either x, y, or z must be divisible by 5. Germain’s theorem is a major step toward proving Fermat’s last theorem for the case where n equals 5″ (Dalmedico 119). Germain also worked in the theory of elasticity, where her works were sent to contests and revised for years but pulled through, and her work in the field would prove to lead to major strides.  Her paper, called Memoir on the Vibrations of Elastic Plates, won on its third time being entered in the French Academy of Science’s contest, where she received immediate credibility and prominence in the mathematic sciences. She was awarded with a prize that then sent her to be the first woman invited to the French Academy of Science’s sessions that was not a wife of a male member.

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether’s father was a mathematical professor at the University of Erlangen. Two of her three brothers grew up to be scientists, and yet, she surpassed them all. Her childhood was spent in a school which only taught minimal education, as was usual for upper-class girls, and in 1900, she was certified to teach French and English. Instead, she pursued a career in mathematics. She was present at Erlangen in 1904 when women were finally allowed to attend, and she received her PhD in mathematics in 1907. Working at the Mathematic Institute of Erlangen from 1908 to 1915, she received no title or pay for her work, and though she made rigorous advancements, she was not recognized until years later. In 1915, she was accepted amongst great mathematicians, such as Felix Klein, David Hilbert, and Albert Einstein, to work with them on their theory of general relativity. Three years later, she proved two theorems on both general relativity and elementary particle physics, one of which is known as the Noether Theorem. Despite her accomplishments, Noether was doubted for her work and was not allowed to work at Gottingen University unless she worked as another professor’s assistant due to the fact that she was a woman. She never advanced from her inferior position to Hilbert, not only also because she was a woman, but because she was Jewish. Despite this, Noether did “foundational work on abstract algebra, working in group theory, ring theory, group representations, and number theory,” according to the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

 Eva Crane

Eva Crane, a graduate with a PhD in nuclear physics from Sheffield University and a doctorate in mathematics, abandoned the field in order to pursue her dream of being a self-proclaimed bee-scientist. Once described as a “queen bee among bee experts”, Crane explored over 60 countries world-wide in order to lecture, write, learn, and educate about bees, both prehistoric and modern. All of her discoveries, knowledge, and books written on the topic of apiculture (defined as the study of bees) originated with one wedding gift: a swarm of bees. It was given to her with the intentions of her sugar supply surviving through the winter, but after receiving the gift, she became fascinated with the beehive, studying it and subscribing to a bee magazine and even starting her own bee club. She became the secretary of the research committee called the British Beekeepers Association, founded the Bee Research Association in 1949, and, for twenty years, edited the Journal of Apiculture Research and Bee World. Her research in apiculture was, according to the New York Times, meticulous. To see said meticulousness, one must look no further than her 2001 book, The Rock Art of Bee Hunters, where she studied 152 sites of rock art images involving bees and honey in seventeen different countries. After her discovery of her affinity for bees, Crane delved her life into “[showing how] ancient ways of cultivating bees persisted in still-used, but disappearing, methods.” According to Douglas Martin of New York Times, Crane called her generation “the last that would be able to see the world’s rich variety of traditional beekeeping.”

Sofia Kovalevskaya

Sofia Kovalevskaya, a Russian mathematician, writer, and women’s rights advocate of the nineteenth century, struggled in her youth to find the best education due to the prejudice against women during her time, despite the fact that she was exposed to mathematics since a very young time in her life. Rumor has it that in her nursery, her father’s old calculus notes replaced her wallpaper. Growing up, she had always had an intense interest in mathematics, and although her parents forbade it, her uncle tended to encourage her interests and privately tutored her. It was clear that Kovalevskaya was a brilliant girl: she taught herself trigonometry at the age of fourteen in order to further understand the physics book she had been reading.

However, despite her brilliance, it was difficult to find a place that would accept her for further education because she was a woman. She wanted to pursue a university education, but the closest university was in Switzerland, far from her home of Petersburg, and unmarried women could not travel by themselves. A marriage of convenience to Vladimir Kovalevsky in 1868 resolved the problem, and the newlyweds soon traveled to Heidelburg, where she gained attention. “People were enthralled by the quiet Russian girl with an outstanding academic reputation,” says writer Teri Perl in her biography of Sofia Kovalevskaya. In Heidelburg, she was allowed to attended lectures despite not being an official student, as it was not proper for women to go to school, particularly in mathematics and science fields. The education, she felt, was not adequate, and then she moved to Berlin in 1870 where she was taken under the wing of Karl Weierstrass at the University of Berlin. Upon their first meeting, Weierstrass questioned Kovalevskaya’s abilities, though after she answered a set of questions that he provided, he instantly realized his mistake in doubting her. They studied privately for four years, and according to Sofia Kovalevskaya herself, “These studies had the deepest possible influence on my entire career in mathematics. They determined finally and irrevocably the direction I was to follow in my later scientific work: all my work has been done precisely in the spirit of Weierstrass.” Kovalevskaya wrote many journals and articles on varying types of mathematics, including partial differential equations, integrals, and symmetry.

Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis, an evolutionist and biologist, is a female scientist who studied the structure of cells in the 1960’s. Her studies influenced and led to the discovery of the origin of complex cells. At Boston University in 1967, she conceived the theory of endosymbiosis, which states the eukaryotic cells originated from prokaryotic cells, although the publication that the theory was published in was rejected by fifteen journals. Stating that she believed that mitochondria and chloroplasts (both organelles found inside of cells that, Margulis said, looked remarkably similar to bacteria) were once independent cells, her theory was rejected for more than a decade before it was supported by evidence found in genes. Ever the evolutionist, she explained that her theory also was one of the driving forces behind evolution.

Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori

Born in 1896 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Cori was born into a tight-knit family. Her uncle was a professor on pediatrics, and he was the one who influenced her decision to enter into medical school. Making the decision to attend the German University of Prague, she was one of the few female students to attend and graduated in 1920 with an M.D., alongside fellow student, who would soon be her husband, Carl Cori. Married shortly after graduation, they moved to Buffalo, New York in 1922, where they began to specialize in biochemistry together at the State Institute for the Study of Malignant Diseases, studying specifically how glucose metabolizes through the body. In 1929, the pair together won a Nobel Prize, making Gerty Cori the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize for science. The prize was presented to the couple for a theory that is now known as the “Cori cycle”. The Cori cycle is an explanation of how energy moves through the body. The glycogen in the muscles is converted to sugar for physical labor, but the sugar remains in the muscles as lactic acid, which is then stored in the liver for later use. Although both Carl and Gerty Cori worked on the theory, it was Gerty’s husband who received recognition and eager job offers for his service.



Many female scientists were ripped from the glory of their work for the prejudices held against them. Essentially, their minds were ignored for the sake of sexism. However, giving them the recognition now serves better than letting their work go nameless (or to a wrong name). Ten of countless female scientists, recognition goes to the women who progressed science to where it is today.