Friday, November 03, 2023

Eight new books about trailblazing women

At Publishers Weekly the staff shared a list of eight new books about trailblazing women, including:
Mischievous Creatures: The Forgotten Sisters Who Transformed Early American Science by Catherine McNeur

Historian McNeur (Taming Manhattan) paints a vibrant portrait of botanist Elizabeth Carrington Morris and her younger sister, entomologist Margaretta Hare Morris, restoring the women to their rightful place in the history of science. Born in the 1790s to a well-to-do family, the sisters grew up in Philadelphia, where they conducted scientific observations and wrote up the findings from their family home. Margaretta made a name for herself by publishing her research into how the Hessian fly destroyed wheat crops, then went on to study, among other subjects, the cicada’s 17-year cycle and the possible role of beetles in causing potato blight. Elizabeth named and categorized plants, drew illustrations of local flora for plant journals, and assisted Harvard botanist Asa Gray. The sisters regularly contributed to popular scientific publications, and Margaretta gained membership to several scientific associations. Yet the Morris sisters and other women scientists of the era were increasingly marginalized by men in the field who viewed them as subordinate helpers and cast doubt on their findings—as Charles Darwin did with Margaretta’s water beetle study. Age and ill-health slowed the sisters’ output; Elizabeth died in 1865 and Margaretta in 1867. With deep insight into the gendered power dynamics that shaped the first half of the 19th century, McNeur serves up an incisive study of institutional bias. It’s a vital account.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Mischievous Creatures.

--Marshal Zeringue