Book 3 for my #50BooksIn2016 challenge. Find out more about the challenge here.
What most impacted me about Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World was the persistence with which these women pursued their dreams and passions in the face of so much adversity. There were many times while reading the stories that I visibly cringed and said out loud things like “Really?” and “I can’t believe that was a thing” and more. I read passages out loud to my partner so he would also know what these women went through. He also cringed, but was more annoyed with me interrupting what he was doing.
Working for free, being denied educations and jobs completely, and not getting credit for their work were the most common challenges the scientists Rachel Swaby wrote about dealt with while advancing their fields in immeasurable ways. For example, Ellen Richards was the first woman ever admitted to MIT, and she attended tuition free so “MIT could claim she wasn’t really a student and that her admission did not establish a precedent for the general admission of females.” Richards later stated she didn’t fully realize her status at the university and “Had I realized upon what basis I was taken, I would not have gone.”
The women in Headstrong won Nobel Prizes, create brand new fields of scientific research, cured diseases, and completed research that changed the course of history (like the development of in vitro fertilization and research that spurred the creation of the EPA to protect the environment).
I am not sure I would have the courage to grit to persevere through the many setbacks these women encountered to continue my work. It is likely because of these women (and many others in many fields) that I’ve never had to endure that kind of sexism.
Headstrong was incredibly humbling from that perspective. It was also a generally very informative and interesting read learning the stories behind some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. I highly recommend it!