Women’s History Blog: The Women of Science


Throughout history, women have had a significant impact on mathematics, science, and medicine. Despite the political, religious and social constraints of their time, these women sought the unattainable and questioned the unquestionable, often paying with their livelihoods or their lives. These remarkable trailblazers shattered myths, advanced our understanding of the universe, our own bodies and everything in between.

Many of these women were famous in their own time, many were awarded the Nobel prize, and even more were immortalized when subsequent generations of scientists named stars, equations, and technologies after them. So instead of highlighting those very deserving women, I decided to highlight some whose names may not be as universally recognizable.

These are only a few of the earliest female pioneers in our fields. These were women who lived at a time when women were not culturally permitted to acquire education, and indeed were born into a world that withheld education from the masses, reserving it only for the male members of the privileged classes.

These women were born with a level of natural curiosity that led them to discoveries that would change our perception of the natural world, our place in it, and deepen our collective understandings of the relationships between the unimaginably large and the imperceptibly small.

Last year, in honor of Women’s history month, the blog was dedicated to amazing female pioneers in the sciences; Women who rose above their male contemporaries against all odds, and at times, risking their place in an organized society.

The pioneers blazed the trails that I and so many like me, would eventually follow. Every woman that has succeeded in the sciences since, has benefited in countless ways from their curiosity, courage, and intellect. The decision to write that blog was easy. What wasn’t easy was deciding which women to leave out.   It was then that I decided to make this topic an annual entry in the blog so that none of these world changing visionaries would be left behind.

Last year we covered:


This year, we’re going to continue the tribute and meet the women that took out of the middle ages and into the eras of the Counter Reformation and Scientific Revolution (16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries).

At some point in the future you may come across a full length book on this topic with my name on the cover, and bio notes that begin with….”The author spent two decades chronicling this information in an effort to include every female pioneer in the sciences…” – but until then, here is my list of names that you should know when you celebrate Women’s History Month.


16th Century

Catherine de Parthenay (1554 –1631)


A French noblewoman and mathematician, she studied with mathematician François Viète.

At a young age she showed an interest in astrology and astronomy. Following this interest and obvious intellect, her mother sought a tutor for Catherine. Considered the greatest mathematician of his time, Francois Viete was hired by Catherine’s mother as her tutor. Francois taught Catherine a slew of subjects such as; geography, current discoveries, cosmographic knowledge, and of course math (most likely sparking her greater interest in mathematics and shaping her into a mathematician). Francois referred to Catherine in many writings, as having the greatest “mathematical mind of her time.”





Sophie Brahe, also known as Sophia Thott (1556 – 1643)


A Danish horticulturalist and student of astronomy, chemistry, and medicine.

Famous astronomer Tycho Brahe, 10 years her senior, was Sophie’s oldest brother. When she was 17, she started assisting her brother with his astronomical observations in 1573 and helped him with the work that became the basis for modern planetary orbit predictions. Tycho wrote that he had trained her in horticulture and chemistry, but he told her not to study astronomy. He expressed with pride that she learned astronomy on her own, studying books in German, and having Latin books translated with her own money so that she could also study them (Tjørnum). Brother and sister were united by their work in science and by their family’s opposition to science as an appropriate activity for members of the aristocracy.



Louise Bourgeois or Louise Boursier or Louise Bourgeois or Louyse Bourgeous (1563–1636)


Louise was a French midwife referred to in her own time as “The Scholar.”

She obtained a diploma and license to legally practice midwifery in 1598 and was named midwife to the family of King Henry IV of France and his wife Marie de Médicis. The visibility this gave her helped to raise the art from folklore to science through her prodigious writings and her methods. In her “retirement” Bourgeois wrote a great deal and made important contributions to obstetrics. She wrote a book on childbirth practices in 1609, the first of its kind to be authored by a woman.

Additional techniques and information were added in 1759 by her descendant, Angelique le Boursier du Courdray, who was also a royal French midwife. She in turn passed this knowledge down to poor women of her time.



17th Century

Marie Meurdrac (c. 1610 – 1680)


Marie was a female chemist and alchemist. In 1656 she published her famous treatise La Chymie Charitable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames (roughly “Useful and Easy Chemistry, for the Benefit of Ladies”). This work went through several editions in French and was also translated into German and Italian, making it the most widely published work authored by a women. The work which was officially approved by the regent masters of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris, focused on providing affordable treatments for the poor.

In addition to the importance of her scientific endeavors, she is seen as a proto-feminist. In her writings she speaks to her “inner struggle” – the struggle between living true to her nature or true to the contemporary female ideal, which she described as “silent, listening and learning, but never displaying…knowledge”. However, she concluded that “it would be a sin against Charity to hide the knowledge that God has given me, which may be of benefit to the world”.





Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia; (1646 –1684)


A Venetian philosopher of noble descent, Elena was the first woman in the world to receive a doctoral degree from a university.

Beginning at age seven, Elena received tutoring in the classical languages of Latin and Greek, as well as grammar and music. In addition to speaking both Latin and Greek fluently, Elena mastered Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Arabic. Elena also exhibited marvelous reasoning powers. A student of the sciences as well as of languages, she studied mathematics and astronomy in addition to philosophy and theology.

In 1672 Elena’s father sent her to the distinguished University of Padua to continue her studies. On June 25, 1678 Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia received the Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Padua. At age thirty-two she was the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate degree.

In addition to the doctorate degree, Elena Piscopia received the Doctor’s Ring, the Teacher’s Ermine cape, and the Poet’s Laurel Crown.


18th Century

Jane Colden (1724 –1766)


An American botanist, Jane Colden was described as the “first botanist of her sex in the new world” by Asa Gray in 1843. Although not acknowledged in botanical publications, she wrote a number of letters applying the Linnaean system of plant identification to American flora. Contemporary scholarship maintains that she was the first female botanist working in America. She was regarded as a respected botanist by many prominent botanists such as: John Bartram, Peter Collinson, Alexander Garden, and Carolus Linnaeus.

Colden is most famous for her manuscript which remains titleless, in which she describes the flora of the New York area, and draws ink drawings of 340 different species of them.


Maria Angela Ardinghelli (1730–1825)


An Italian translator, mathematician, physicist

An expert in mathematical physics, Ardinghelli’s fame was elevated due to the translation of key works of the English physicist Stephen Hales Haemastaticks and Vegetable Staticks.

She also performed scientific experiments inspired by Hales’ works. She was identified as an informal correspondent and cultural mediator for foreign scientist and naturalist traveling to Italy which led to her appointment as the first female correspondent for the Paris Academy of Sciences.

Working for the Paris Academy of Sciences connected her to the scientific communities of France and Naples.




Maria Christina Bruhn (1732–1802)


A Swedish inventor, Maria was the first patented female inventor.

Bruhn was the eldest of three daughters and took over a tapestry and wallpaper manufacturing enterprise after the death of her widowed mother Inga Christina in 1751. In 1771, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences offered a reward for anyone who would be able to produce a suitable package for gunpowder for the army.

During her work manufacturing paint and preparing paper, she had been inspired to the idea which she presented to the academy 2 March 1774. In a letter form 1783, she explained that she often experimented during her work. The men of the Academy expressed deep skepticism against the invention of a woman. It took twelve years of testing, during which she had to fight among others the attempts of Reinhold von Anrep, General of the Artillery, to take credit for her invention before the ministry of war approved it recognizing her as its inventor.

She was given the reward and the patent in 1786, and her invention remained in use with the Swedish army for many generations.






Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)


A master astronomer, Caroline was the first woman to discover a comet, identifying several over the course of her lifetime.

The Royal Astronomical Society was so impressed with her work that she was awarded the Gold Medal in 1828, and later admitted to the society as an honorary member in 1835, alongside Mary Somerville. No woman was awarded the Gold Medal again until 1996. In 1838 she was also elected as a member of the Royal Irish Academy and at age 96 she was awarded the Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia.





In Memoriam, with our deepest Gratitude and Respect

These women ushered in the age of enlightenment with sheer will, courage, and determination.

Coda Corp USA, a company of engineers, envisioned, founded and steered by women, is proud to take this opportunity to celebrate Women’s History Month by expressing our deep gratitude to these women.

For the roles they played in ensuring education, opportunity, and everlasting inspiration, we say thank you.



© Coda Corp USA 2015. All rights reserved.







Gina Guido-Redden

Chief Operating Officer

Coda Corp USA

(p) 716.751.6150

[email protected]


“Quality is never an accident; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It is the wisest of many alternatives.”



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