Forgotten women in science

As a part of Norwich Science Festival, scientist Emma Markham gave a talk with the aim of recognising the contributions of female scientists whose accomplishments have been buried in history, which, at least in part, has been caused by the creation of Wikipedia pages. Wikipedia is one of the quickest ways to get information about notable figures, yet only 18% of the biography pages on the website are about women.

Emma Markham is one of many volunteers helping to write pages for these women so their stories and achievements are not forgotten. These pages include Dr Ida Freund – The first female chemistry lecturer in the UK. She was Austrian and spoke little English, and only had one leg, but led the way in educating women on the sciences at Newnham College in Cambridge. She was known for her inventive teaching methods, such as using cupcakes to help students learn the periodic table.

Another science pioneer for whom Markham created a Wikipedia pages was Alfreda Withington. An American woman who, after earning a degree in medical science, was unable to get a position as a physician at a hospital because the male directors wouldn’t let her take the entrance exam. In response – she went on to study at various institutions in Europe before returning to the United States to start her own practice. At the age of 63, she took the role of physician in the Kentucky mountains, where she worked for seven years and got around via horseback.

Elizabeth Knight was another scientist included in the talk. A physician who attempted to interview the Prime Minister in 1908 and was consequently thrown in prison. Determined not to let that stop her, she wrote a book publicising the sanitary conditions in prison, and continued to be involved in the women’s suffrage movement for the rest of her life.

The list of these women who remain unacknowledged is still significant. Wikipedia is keen for volunteers to help collate information on their incredible achievements and create pages for them. ‘Wikipedia Women in Red’ is a group campaigning for the creation of these pages, and you can get involved via their website – no experience or qualifications are necessary.


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Jess Scragg