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Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 Paperback – August 1, 1984

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A splendid book... Rossiter's tone in recounting [the struggle of women scientists] is never strident. A clear enough case emerges from the sources that she skillfully weaves into a tapestry of social trends and individual experience.

(Alice Kimball Smith New York Times Book Review)

Necessary reading for all who seek to understand the sexual politics of science today. It illuminates how gender has influenced the development of science in this country and how and why our cultural values have followed us into the laboratory.

(Judith Walzer Leavitt Science)

Margaret Rossiter has given us a gripping, beautifully documented account of the struggles of early women scientists in America. It is a moving tribute to the efforts that paved the way for women scientists today.

(Women's Review of Books)

A seminal work of rich scholarly detail... It is a splendid and totally satisfying feast, whetting the appetite for the next volume.


Margaret Rossiter is certainly not the first to notice sexism in science, but she has made a convincing case for its blatancy. Faced with her evidence, no one can doubt that sexism was an accepted federal policy and a powerful force in the scientific community.

(Technology and Culture)

A record of hopes squelched, strategies thwarted, and uncomfortable compromises uneasily made... No one who values simple justice can read these pages without becoming furious.

(Ruth Schwartz Cowan Journal of American History)

[A] fine and meticulously researched book... [which] should be obligatory reading for those interested in the relationship of women and professionalization in the 20th century.

(Regina Markell Morantz JAMA)

About the Author

Margaret W. Rossiter is the Marie Underhill Noll Professor of the History of Science at Cornell University and editor of Isis and Osiris. Her book Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972 is also available from Johns Hopkins.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (August 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801825091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801825095
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on June 28, 2000
Margaret Rossiter's work clearly outlines the rise in 19th century America of the notion that girls and women ought to be educated, and deftly constructs a gripping read about how this relatively new notion translated itself into women finally attaining access to higher education. She goes in-depth in examining each successive generation, from the 1840s onwards, in showing how, once one generation of women attained a certain level of education in the sciences, they sought to give the same and more opportunities to the next set of young women. Rossiter also clearly delineates part of what is probably at the origin of women's pay imbalance today: once so many women attained higher degrees, there was nowhere else for them to go, including the women's colleges where jobs were scarce. They therefore accepted much lower-paying jobs as "scientists' assistants" in the astronomy, botany, or other laboratory simply to utilize the knowledge they had gained. Rossiter's work gives insights into the hard-won educational rights we now take for granted, but illuminates some situations that have persisted into the present day. My only criticism of the work is that she mentions so many names of women becoming scientists, particularly in the 1880s and 1890s, that it became a bit confusing to keep them all straight. While she has charts showing how many women were attaining degrees at various women's, and finally coed, institutions, it would have been helpful to have a "genealogy" of all of these scientists. All in all one of the most interesting books I have read in months.
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When I read parts of this book for the first time in 1984, I learned of the existence and contributions of many women scientists. I read about the obstacles they faced (nepotism rules, a Civil Service system that allowed those hiring to give preference to men, etc) and about the settings where women were able to contribute to science (women's colleges, home economics departments, and laboratories, where low-paid assistants were needed). Most of this was new to me even though I had been a woman scientist for 15 years.

Recently I reread the book. This time I looked at the sources of information; they included obituaries, directories of scientists, unpublished manuscripts, contemporary journals, and oral histories. It seemed to me that Dr. Rossiter had done a unusually thorough search for information and used that information to provide strong scholarly support for her conclusions.

Dr. Rossiter has received recognition for the quality for her work. She was a McArthur fellow for five years beginning in 1989. In 2004 the History of Science Society named one of its prizes after her; it is callled the Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize.

I would rate this first volume of Margaret Rossiter's trilogy,Women in Science in America, as five stars for those with a scholarly interest in women's studies or the history of science. I think that those who have a general interest in women in science may want to skim over some details in Rossiter's books and read biographies of individual scientists such as the section on Maria Goeppert Mayer in Joan Dash's A Life of One's Own and two books about Barbara McClintock, A Tangled Field and A Feeling for the Organism. (All are currently available from Amazon.com)
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