Women’s History Month: Marie Curie and Beyond

As Women’s History Month begins, I find myself wishing I’d planned a series of blog posts about amazing women in history (similar to my daily posts for horror movies in October); unfortunately, however, I only thought of this today and this month is looking to be a beast, so that won’t be happening. I’m going to try to post more than once this month, but I can make no promises!


I wanted to begin with Marie Curie. Really, this post is not about her specifically but is more about what she represents. My dissertation (No Longer Estranged: Women, Science, Science Fiction) explored the relationship between feminist science fiction and feminist science studies, and, as part of my research, I was interested in how people think of women in science and what female scientists people know about and think of immediately. The answer essentially boiled down to Marie Curie. A few people could list other female scientists (Jane Goodall sometimes comes up, for instance, or Rachel Carson), but for far too many people, their list of female scientists begins and ends with this one woman.

This has happened many times. Just recently, I was discussing gender in STEM with my Technical Communications students and they repeated this pattern yet again, failing at naming any other female scientist beyond Marie Curie.

Don’t get me wrong – Marie Curie is an amazing figure and I’m glad people know of her and that she gets the credit she does. I hope, however, that we can get past the one token woman in science model and learn to appreciate all the women in science (past and present).

In case I don’t get a chance to write about them later this month, here are a few personal favorites:

  • Rachel Carson
  • Jane Goodall
  • Mary Anning
  • Sylvia Earle
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Rosalind Franklin
  • Barbara McClintock
  • Ellen Swallow Richards
  • Lynn Margulis

For further reading, I’d highly recommend Rachel Ignotofsky’s Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World for readers of all ages as an introduction to women doing science across history and across a range of fields. Reading this book, I learned about women I’d never heard of before, and it has lovely illustrations to boot. And Julie Des Jardins’ The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science provides a more analytical approach to the topic, providing more depth (but fewer illustrations) than Ignotofsky’s book.