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Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. The original conception was to increase awareness of women in technology, and of the presence of female role models, by getting a thousand people to write blog posts about a woman in technology who inspires them. Nearly 2000 people signed up!

I am a nonconformist, and chose a woman from science rather than one from technology: Beatrix Potter.

I can see the puzzlement from here. Potter? But she wrote kid’s books! Well, yes, so? She was also an extremely talented naturalist, and an expert mycologist. Potter was originated the idea that lichens were a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga.

Beatrix Potter lived at a time when drawing and painting and being amateur naturalists (birdwatching and painting flowers) were acceptable pursuits for women of good breeding, but scientific observation and analysis were not. She was turned away from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, had publications refused by the Royal Society, and had to have someone else give her paper before the Linnaean Society, all because she was female.

Beatrix Potter is one of my heroines. I’ve studied at scientific institutions, published in scientific journals, and presented before scientific audiences. No longer are these unusual activities for women, though there is certainly still sexism present. Potter helped to push the boundaries preventing women from participating in these activities, no matter how brilliant their insights. She should be remembered for her charming tales and lovely illustrations, but also for an inquiring mind.

One Comment

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks for the details! I was scarcely even peripherally aware of her scientific contributions, since I’ve only read things about her stories.

    Years ago I saw an exhibit at the New York State Museum in Albany: Victorian-era botanical paintings by a woman who would have been a mycologist if (you guessed it) she hadn’t been a woman. I wish I could remember her name; they were beautiful.