Currently viewing the category: "Women, History of"

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Follow Me on Pinterest

Nature099[The decorative gilt-stamped title of the cover of the volumes of my run of the great journal, Nature, 1871]

In the 23 November 1871 issue of Nature appears "Science for Women", a sort of unsigned editorial. It is one in an interesting series of (for the most) part positive revelations about the education of women in the sciences, a step towards, well, not "equality", but a normalization, a rapprochement, extending the field of technical education away from the ruling/private school/university class of men towards women. This was happening at a time when there was not only a distinct division between men and women in education but also between the classes.

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This anatomy of convenience first seems to be the opposite of what it was–the newly-established laundry room as a place in which great chunks of time were spent on repetitive and numbing labor.

Doing the laundry at home–where else was the laundry being done? By some middle class people the laundry was being taken care of elsewhere, and then also at home but by someone else–at least by semi-imaginary standards of the day in 1922. Perhaps to distinguish itself a little more clearly this pamphlet should have been called Doing Your Laundry at Home Yourself.

Good Housekeeping was presenting the Laundry Room, complete with all of the modern conveniences, including an electric washing machine, which (although there is no electric dryer in site) would have saved perhaps a waking week in the life of the average housekeeper by relegating hand-washing the laundry to an electrical convenience. Blogjuly_17_work_laundry335

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post, Election Day

This piece of Suffragette music was published in the incredibly-named "Palace of Music"by W.W. Whitney in Toledo, Ohio in about 1869. For most intents and purposes the women's vote movement was still in its first generation, and still five decades away from a national vote for women. The music and words were those of Frank Howard (not of the Baltimore Orioles, as this Mr. Howard was born in 1823). Images courtesy of the vast colelctions at/connected to the Library of Congress, here.

Vote terrible men

Vote terrible men_edited-1

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books

Girdle--a det428 [My thanks to Patti Digh for providing the idea for the Goedel part of this adventure into Playtex and Logic--she did so because (a) they fit together and (b) girdle/Goedel sounded almost identical to a woman who once lived in Munich!]

In the long history of Holding Things In, perhaps the newest of its
members was upon us only recently. In the long, deep past we have held
our breath, hidden our anger, stowed our emotions, and so on, but it was
only recently that we began to hold our bellies in. One of the masters of Holding Things In for this period turns out to be the sublime logician and re-inventor of modern mathematics (by putting one piece of the great Hilbert to sleep), Kurt Goedel, who towards the mistakenly-self-engineered end of his life, Goedelheld on to everything, virtually–he organized and filed almost very piece of paper that he came into contact with at any level, became ever more reclusive, and at the end (due to his theories of people/institutions wanting to kill him) refused food and, of all things, water. Surrounded by the smartest people on the planet (including his friends Einstein and von Neumann) up there at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Goedel withered away until he had almost no shadow. It is a bad irony that he could be so inconceivably unmovable and restrained while at the same time, and in the same life, offered such incredible newness to the maths–both ends of the mountain at the same time.

1951, the year in which these girdle advertisements appeared in Life magazine, was also the year that Goedel present us with the Goedel metric, and also in which he received (with Julian Schwinger) the first Albert Einstein award (and of course delivered his famous Gibbs lecture "Some basic theorems on the foundations of mathematics and their implications").

The popular introduction of the girdle I think that
this happened at about the same time for the sexes, only these
conveniences were much more often advertised for women than they were
for men. Slender and non-existent waistlines for women were more of a cultural identifier
than a slim-hipped man, and the ads for his cheaters appeared far less
frequently than those for women.

The first widespread appearance of the girdle for the sake of vanity must have occurred during the 19th century, or perhaps a little later is my best guess–but the first time the device began to appear for the common woman must've come around the time when there was time for leisure, or shopping, or of being seen in public in short intervals. And that I believe is a Victorian-age invention.

But the binder doesn't come into fabulous presence until the distribution of mass population illustrated magazines, or I should say the advertisements that made these magazines possible: production like LIFE (from which these 1951 images come) reached far more women than the popular older periodicals like Harper's Weekly or other polite mid-19th century journals for women. The advertisements were certainly more enticing, the possibilities more rewarding, and the girdle comfort levels far higher than their predecessors, and the availability of disposable income for women far greater–and so incidentals like the girdle became more greatly commodified, and moved into the "essentials" category.

The idea of these ads seem horribly revolutionary: on the one hand, the badly-named and hyphenated Playtex product "Pink-Ice" squeezed women into new tight but malleable molds, while at the same time promised some sort of ballet-like freedom because of it. Like the creeping ("two steps forward and one step back") communism of the time, Playtex promised the possibilities of enhanced freedom through restrictive clothing (in a "peace through strength" vision). In any event, and in spite all of what I just wrote, the pictures are kind of amazing.

[I'm well aware that this may be one of the worst things ever written about Kurt Goedel--the Renault Dauphine of Goedeliana. But it doesn't matter, because in all of his powers, Goedel could absolutely prove that g_d existed, and that I don't.]

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post


Photo source: Library of Congress , via Vintage Photography , at

This photograph–a daguerreotype, really–is both extraordinary and terribly common, at the same time, and is so in a way that is difficult to define, just that it is so. It is the work of Frances Benjamin Johnston (whose collection resides at the Library of Congress) and was completed between 1845-1860, and shows the photographer's aunts. They make a formidable group. I'd like to be able to find the data that the outline of their portraits form, because to me they look lik a graph.

The photographer, Frances Johnston (1864-1952), was one of America's first successful female workers in the field of photography and photo-journalism. She opened a studio around 1890, and went into business, no doubt helped along by her wealthy family's social clipboard. That it took 50 years or so and the application of a family's small fortune to firmly establish a woman at this rank in photography, so close to the year 1900, so far into the advance of photography, is remarkable. The self-portrait, below, shows her mind:

File:Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait, seated in front of fireplace, 1896 (altered).jpg

she reveals herself a woman of the modern age, with her petticoats flaring and obvious, a cigarette in one hand, and a beer stein in the other, secrets no longer.

Sisters 1

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Again from the interesting and charming La Boite Verte website I’ve found an interesting suite of French photographic postcards. This set concentrates on the possible occupations of women in the future (“avenir”/”future”), and printed in 1902 by A. Bergertet in Nancy, France. The images are slightly odd, most tbeing a little on the “swimsuit issue” side, but then again not without the women exhibiting a kind of coy pride in spite of what they looked like. In spite of the attire, the women depicted as the “general”, the firefighter (“pompier”), student (complete with a jauntily-held cigarette), and the sailor (“marin”), for example, are all taking their future positions seriously, even though their uniforms have been arranged for a 1902 man’s viewing pleasure.

Its interesting to see that seeing into the future of professions and callings for women didn’t habe to “see” all that far, with all of the professions being attained within the next 50-75 years. Of course the pay is largely still not same for women as it is for men, nor is women’s percentage share (for most) anywhere close to a proportional share, but it is a good start.

[Source: Le Boite Verte and Fantasies Bergeret]

les femmes de lavenir phototypie bergeret 13 Les Femmes de lAvenir 1902

Read Full Article →

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1727

"Life for both sexes—and I look at them, shouldering their way along the pavement—is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion that we are, it calls for confidence in oneself."–Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

I'm sorry to have stayed for so long in Punch magazine, but it is a very interesting read. I've a run of 50 years or so of it here and on occasional a few volumes get pulled out and I make my way slowly/quickly through them. Earlier this morning a cartoon lampooning British scientists (and a screaming zero) caught my eye–and now, after tea, comes a chance find of this image of a female doctor that seems to my interpretation to be an endorsement of sorts to the general idea of female education.

Woman dr234

Punch can be a very cranky periodical, lampooning everything, taking few (or no) prisoners. On occasion I've noticed (and this is hardly an academic summary, just an exposure-to-a-lot-of-pages identification) that the idea of educating women and girls has fallen in and out of favor with Mr. Punch–the idea of the general intellectual capacity of woman seems occasionally to be in crinoline-entombed confusion in Punch's pages, even though it does seem to be a not-irregular contradiction for the large-headed, small-bodies, world-balancing Mr. Punch.

But not this time. It seems the cartoon, the "Lady-Physicians", takes the high road for the woman doctor, portraying her as a competent professional while her limpid cold-attracted patient is portrayed as a pillow-encrusted dandy who has called upon his doctor than for no other reason than to gain her fancy. Its an interesting position for the magazine to take, here in its 23 December 1865 issue. A pro-woman professional, pro-female education stance is not a common one for many magazines at this time, not even in Punch itself, which seems at this point to be throwing off its own earlier opinions on the question sagacity of advanced instruction and education for women.

It seems to me as though Punch, even as early as 1865, is getting ready to grant women a room of their own in which to do what needs to be done.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

These were the helpful hints to get the working woman out the door and into a job that she could keep–following the reimine of daily healthcare and body awareness as suggested by Bristol-Myers, the maker of the list as well as most of the products that one could buy to help keep pace with it.


Read Full Article →