Catalysts, compilers and expositors: rethinking women’s pivotal contributions in nineteenth-century 'physical sciences'

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This chapter re-examines the contexts of Whewell’s alleged coinage of the term ‘scientist’ in 1833 to rethink women’s pivotal contributions to nineteenth-century ‘physical sciences’ and to STEM(M) today. Whewell’s term thus reveals his reactive need for a label in English for major international contributors to the ‘physical sciences’, including expert women in their fields such as Mary Somerville (1780–1872). The chapter then uncovers exemplary women following in her parallel practices of ‘physicien’ science as catalysts, compilers and expositors: Sarah Bowdich (Lee), (1791–1856), Margaret Gatty (1809–1873) and Athénaïs Michelet (1826–1899). Although unacknowledged by their professionalizing ‘scientist’ counterparts, all three differently contributed to international ‘physical sciences’ independently in plain sight. When reinstated to view, however, women’s alternative primary models for scientific practice of the period both reveal the entitlement of ‘scientist’ to an exclusionary and exclusive body of particular men and challenge the alleged exceptionalism of women in (nineteenth-century) science ‘pipelines’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave handbook of women and science since 1660
EditorsClaire Jones, Alison Martin, Alexis Wolf
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9783030789732
ISBN (Print)9783030789725, 9783030789756
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • The 'scientist' (1833)
  • The 'pipeline' model
  • The 'physicien' question
  • Deselection of women in 'physical sciences'
  • 'Professionalized' scientific expertise


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