- Historical Figures
- Women in STEM
Various: see individual books!
This March, I decided to do a few roundups of biographies (arguably my favorite genre) of people not all of us learned about in school (I sure didn’t). I’m fascinated by the intersection of feminism and STEM, and especially top of mind is how these trailblazing women are so often white. There is so much room for growth within the STEM stories that are shared, and discussing why so much of science has whitewashed and actively rejected the history of scientists of color is only the beginning. tta will continue to feature and uplift those stories that are making their way to the forefront and at the same time, value the contributions of all trailblazing women in stem. we believe that both of these ideas can be held at the same time, and we sincerely hope you enjoy this roundup!
Beatrix Potter, Scientist
Everyone has heard of Beatrix Potter, or at least Peter Rabbit. But what might not be so well-known is how much of a scientist Beatrix was! Beatrix actually developed in her home kitchen how to sprout more than forty different types of mushroom spores. But, she wasn’t taken seriously most of the time because she was a woman.
Beatrix moved on from self-driven academic research, but no one really knows why. However, the next chapter of her life brought about the phenomena of Peter Rabbit! She used her extensive background knowledge of the natural world to bring him to life. In the back is more information about Beatrix, and a timeline of her life!
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer:
Classified is a fantastic book, weaving together information about the Cherokee Nation and values as well as Mary Golda Ross’ biography. Mary grew up with parents who valued education and math, and she was fascinated by solving problems. Unafraid and undeterred by being the only girl in classes (and often the only Indigenous or Cherokee person) Mary excelled and quietly began to change the world.
This is also an Own Voices book, the author is Cherokee and the illustrator is Métis. Much of Mary’s work is still classified, but we know she worked on many government projects. She was also the first female engineer at Lockheed! She worked incredibly hard to help teach and recruit Indigenous women to the field. In the back is a timeline, more information on Cherokee values, and some sources for those of you who are extra curious about Mary.
Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
Who hasn’t dreamed of being a spy when they were young? Or at least tried to make secret codes in order to write notes to friends? Reading this book was the first time I had ever heard about Elizebeth Friedman, and I’m floored by her intelligence and accomplishments!
Elizebeth initially studied literature in school, and serendipitously got a job with an individual who introduced her to the word of cryptanalysis or codebreaking. Although she didn’t find any hidden messages in the Shakespeare scripts she analyzed (yes, that was her actual job) she did meet her husband, another codebreaker, and go onto an incredibly successful career for the government.
This book is wonderfully detailed, and gives a ton of information. Elizebeth led a very full life, and often traveled from her country home into cities to help the government break codes during both World Wars. Although she and her family were threatened by the government to never reveal what she worked on, she continued to help break codes, catch Nazis, and proved her intelligence time and time again, even in a court of law. There’s even a PBS movie about her, which you can watch here! Or, you can visit this website for some activities.
Emmy Noether: The Most Important Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of:
This book’s layout is very clever, and the typography used (such as the bulleted lists) and snarky side comments from other characters instantly drew me in. The story emphasizes how unusual Emmy’s behavior was at the time, and how she took classes that wouldn’t earn her a degree and taught mathematics for free because it was against German law for women to be professors or teach men!
This story is for the oddballs, and the ones that break the mold for societally acceptable behavior. Emmy made enormous contributions to the STEM field, including Noether’s theorem, and concepts that would assist the development of computer software. Emmy was Jewish and fled Germany during WWII, which changed the way she was accepted professionally for the better. In the back of the book is a photo of Emmy and additional biographic information.
This is a great book, and would definitely be helpful to talk about sexism in academia, the overwhelming whiteness of the profession (then and now) as well as a great addition to any STEM lessons!
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter
This book fits in nicely with the one above, there is a lot of emphasis on how unusual Evelyn was for liking nature, animals, and stomping around in the woods getting dirty. She bucked many traditions and studied insects intently. She heard from a cousin that the London Zoo wanted an insect house keeper, and Evelyn jumped at the chance. This was the catalyst that changed the rest of her life.
In 1924 Evelyn embarked on a global adventure to collect insects and discover new species (we’ll ignore the colonialism here for a moment and focus on the feminism) of insects, bringing them back to London. Evelyn was the first white woman to do so, and often climbed and scaled laborious terrain by herself.
In the back of the book is an interview with a Black entomologist named Dr. Alexandra Harmon-Threat, as well as more information about Evelyn and a really rad picture of her!