The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Faces in the Crowd
For the month of March, the Smithsonian Institution Archives will be posting new photos of women scientists to the Flickr Commons and highlighting these women in blog posts on THE BIGGER PICTURE, in honor of Women's History Month.
Happy Women's History Month! This is The Bigger Picture's third year celebrating the achievements of women scientists in the early 20th Century. We will be rolling out over one hundred newly digitized images on the Flickr Commons during March (see the first round here), and offering up numerous stories of women who were experts in scientific fields ranging from anthropology to zoology. There will also be opportunities for our blog and Flickr communities to help us solve a few mysteries. These Flickr Commons additions all come from the Science Service news syndicate’s morgue file (past stories, clippings and photographs filed for reference and re-use). Photographs of women (dated from the 1920s to 1960s) represent only about five to seven percent of prints in this collection. However, Science Service's choice of women as a focus of articles demonstrates a concerted effort to highlight achievements of a population that was certainly a minority in the area of scientific research. Two major themes prevail: (1) Women who were the first to earn degrees, hold professional positions, or receive honors and recognition in a particular scientific field; and (2) if one looks at the entire group of women, changing perceptions of a woman's place in the scientific profession over time. One of the first areas of study considered "acceptable" for women was botany, particularly plant pathology. The USDA's Bureau of Plant Industry was one of the first federal government offices to become highly feminized. A November 4, 1916, Washington Post article on the close of the annual "Mum" Show related, "A bevy of girls arrived at the greenhouse in the morning and stood sponsors for the pompom blooms. Some of the young women who gave their names to the blooms were…" USDA employees Nellie A. Brown and Agnes Quirk (among others). Almost two decades later, Mary Greiner Kelly wrote an article in the Post entitled "Women Scientists Hold High Rank in Developing Plant Disease Cures" (June 1, 1934). It starts, "When a cabbage patch gets a headache, or sugar beets develop the gout, or bantam corn contracts a mastoid—then it's time to put through a rush call for the plant disease diagnosticians." (Almost sounds like a call out to Batman’s pal, Commissioner Gordon.) Some of the women highlighted in the article were Nellie A. Brown (specialist in plant tumors and cankers), Lucia McCulloch (expert on diseases of ornamental plants), Agnes Quirk and Edna Fawcett (specialists on plant health problems), and Florence Hedges (pioneer in plant bacteriology). A sign of some change from "a bevy of girls." These days (most of the time) one would expect an article on botanists, sans the qualifier of "woman." Certainly great progress from 1916.