Women participated and responded to the Humanistic and Renaissance Movements the same way they did during the Scientific Revolution. This means that during the various movements women played a role in making sure that they are recognized. It is only during the era of the Scientific Revolution that the women made significant advances towards being recognized. During the 17th and 18th centuries, there were many discoveries and this caused a lot of excitement. Furthermore, some women who were gifted were inspired to become scientists. In turn, they formulated and came up with theories concerning the world that is natural. There are not many people who are aware that there are notable women of the Scientific Revolution. Men are the ones who are famous and one must have heard of Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilee, and Nicholas Copernicus, among others. Women of the scientific evolution era also published their findings and performed experiments like male scientists (Fara, 2004.34).
There were women who were formally educated in matters that concerned humanistic precepts. However, women who existed at the time of the scientific revolution did not have much knowledge concerning the sciences as they had not been trained. These women studied and read on their own, and the reason why they are given a lot of acclamation. Unfortunately, women were criticized by the families, rather than being encouraged. They were accused of engaging in acts that are unfeminine, inelegant as well as inappropriate (Fara, 2004.45).
It is evident that, across America and Europe, the natural sciences were a fascination to many women. The male and women scientists corresponded and studied together concerning extremely vital matters. Moreover, in union with each other, the knowledge they acquired was used in practical formulation of applications. Some of the fields were Natural History, Physical Geography, Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Horticulture and Botany. The men and women during the Scientific Revolution, who were interested in the mentioned subjects, were known as naturalists. The latter is a name that continued to be used for many centuries. Charles Darwin is an example of a famous 19th century naturalist (Fara, 2004.56)
Scanty information exists concerning the notable women, as only few had their extensive biographies written down. For example, in the years 1599-1625, Ana de Osorio the Cinchon Countess had valuable medicinal information. She is known to be the first person who made sure that Europe had information regarding quinine. The latter’s bark has many medicinal properties, and she had came with it from Peru. Furthermore, the quinine is responsible for curing the malaria she had been infected. While, in Peru, she was the Viceroy’s wife and a resident of Peru. The latter is during the period when the Spanish had taken over Peru. As a result of her discovery, in her honor, the plant is today named Cinchona Pubescens. The father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus is the one who named the plant, in order to honor the Countess. The plant is mostly found in the Tropical South American region that is mountainous and extremely naïve. In the later years, discovery of quinine was credited to the American Army General known as Walter Reed. Malaria could now be treated due to the discovery of the strong palliative, especially when America took over France in building the Panama Canal (Fara, 2004.67).
In the whole of the 17th and 18th centuries, from the years 1647-1717, the most notable naturalist is Maria Sibylla Merian. Most people today remember her for being an artist’s rather than a scientist. When she was young, she would collect specimens from the fields, which her step father owned. In turn, she published and completed engravings and collections of European insects and flowers. Most people regarded this accomplishment as being artistic and not scientific (Merian, 2012.1). Merian observed the various stages in the development of caterpillars and painted them. Insect collectors, who were males and the Amsterdam Botanical Garden Director, were fascinated by her work. At the age of fifty two, she went for an expedition in South America’s interior for two years. Unfortunately, she had to return home after contracting yellow fever (Merian, 2012.1).
An aristocratic English woman known as Margaret Cavendish of the years 1617 to 1673 is famous for teaching herself universe studies, astronomy and mathematics. In the later years, a total of fourteen books were produced by her, and they ranged from atomic physics to natural history (James, 1999.220). It is indeed evident that she had a forte for writing and learning. Another notable woman is a noble French woman, known as Emile Du Chatelet. Among all the women scientists of the scientific revolution, she is the most erudite. By the time she had attained twelve years, she had knowledge of seven languages. Furthermore, she did not sleep for long hours, and her speed during reading was extremely fast. In Paris, people knew her for being exceptionally talented in scientific and mathematical circles. Moreover, she interpreted Isaac Newton’s theories and thus gaining a reputation in the field of physics. It had reached a point whereby, she even replicated some of the experiments done by Newton. Her father often scolded her by claiming that she would never get married if she continued pursuing knowledge. Her father claimed that men were not interested in women who were more ambitious than them. This shows that the society that existed during the scientific revolution was prejudice against the women (James, 1999.238).
Lastly, there is Maria Agnesi, known to be a prodigy during her childhood. By the time, she was nine years; she could speak, read and write seven languages. They included Hebrew, Spanish, German, Greek, Latin, French and Italian. She even went to the extent of teaching her brothers, and in the year 1748, she published a calculus book. The book is widely recognized as an influential book about calculus (Hannam, 2011. 12). At the university, she attained her doctorate, and is the second woman in the world to acquire such an achievement. The name ‘Witch of Agnesi’ was given to her and has since been immortalized. In fact, the latter name refers to an algebraic equation named after her. Indeed, women were a force equal to their male counterparts.
The scientific revolution played a significant role in making women known. During this time, women were viewed as vital figures in most of the 17th century public debates. According to embryologists, there was a need to find out the role of women from conception. In ancient Greek, ideas of tenacity were adopted from female anatomy, and how well it could be understood. At the onset, of the era of the scientific revolution, the microscope was developed, and it helped a lot in understanding women. It helped prove that during the process of embryology women were involved actively and equally. People were now convinced that the theories brought forward by Aristotle were not true or even significant. According to Aristotle, women owed their existence to the men, as their souls and the fetus was from the males (Hannam, 2011. 23). As people became aware of the contributions of women, men’s attitudes towards them changed significantly. Women were on their way towards being recognized for their contributions towards developing the quality of human life. The traditional role of women being housekeepers and housewives slowly came to an end. Furthermore, many women were inspired by their successful counterparts.
Before the scientific revolution, the intelligent woman had to hide their talents, as they were viewed as outcasts. Moreover, they had to choose whether to have a career by gaining knowledge or to enter a marriage. It was not easy for women to cater to their families needs and become scholars. The traditional role of women could not be escaped even if one was extremely brilliant (Hannam, 2011. 25). All these came to a halt after women like Emile and Cavendish showed their ability as naturalists. There are various changes that occurred to the women of the era of the scientific revolution, as they were empowered to write and study. They could also have children as well as lovers. Furthermore, women were allowed to have posts in society that previously were held by men. Attitude levels, that existed before declined as women had proven they had similar capabilities with the men. In the modern society, women are now recognized, and this is due to the notable women who existed during the 17th century. Indeed, women should not be viewed as inferior human beings, as they have the potential of becoming successful as history has proven.
Fara, Patricia. Pandora’s Breeches: Women, Science & Power in the Enlightenment. London: Pimlico, 2004.Print.
Hannam, James. The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution. Oxford: Regnery Publishing, 2011.Print.
James, Susan. “The Philosophical Innovations of Margaret Cavendish.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 7, 2 (1999): 219-244.
Merian, Sibylla. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/apr/09/the-flowering-genius-of-maria-sibylla-merian (February 20, 2012).
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