International Women’s Day: The Advancement of Two Women in Science

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, I am offering complimentary downloads of both Maria Mitchell’s and Hertha Marks Ayrton’s coloring portraits from The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries!

The Advancement of Two Women in Science

Just a century and a half ago, a group of women created an organization to discuss and demonstrate how women needed opportunities to expand their interests and participate in society beyond their expected roles of managing their own households. The American Association for the Advancement of Women was co-founded by Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) in 1873. Not only was Maria elected as the Association’s president for two consecutive years, she also chaired the Science Committee until her death.

Maria is most notably known for being the first American woman to discover a comet. She was also the first professional woman astronomer and the first woman to teach as a professor of astronomy at Vassar College. Her discovery of what came to be known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” led her to become the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Maria was also a strong advocate for the equal rights of girls and women, believing that society was doing a disservice to itself by not allowing women to work outside of the home. She felt it was wrong to not allow women to attend grammar school, let alone university. What new ideas and intellectual contributions could women offer to society if they were no longer bound to their homes? What could they contribute to science if they were permitted? In a paper titled “The Need of Women in Science” that Maria presented to the Fourth Congress of the Association for the Advancement of Women held in 1876, she wrote:

Does anyone suppose that any woman in all the ages has had a fair chance to show what she could do in science? The laws of nature are not discovered by accidents; theories do not come by chance, even to the greatest minds; they are not born of the hurry and worry of daily toil; they are diligently sought, they are patiently waited for, they are received with cautious reserve, they are accepted with reverence and awe. And until able women have given their lives to investigation, it is idle to discuss the question of their capacity for original work.

Holding similar beliefs, across the Atlantic ocean in England, Hertha Marks Ayrton (born Phoebe Sarah Marks, 1854-1923) felt that gender should play no role in science. Born just two decades before the establishment of the American Association for the Advancement of Women, Hertha had an entirely modern view of women in the workplace – specifically in science. Why not just simply allow women to pursue science and to not differentiate between the male scientist and female scientist? Simply put, give a woman the chance and allow her work to speak for itself.

Hertha’s mother, however, certainly did not inspire this idea. She did not even believe in the right of an education for girls, for women were meant to work at home. Hertha did not allow her mother’s views to influence her life; rather, it ignited in her a profound desire to pursue her talents in mathematics, physics, and engineering. With the financial assistance of one of the school’s founders, Barbara Bodichon, Hertha attended Girton College, the first university for women in England, where she studied mathematics. Hertha registered 26 patents – all in her own name – and wrote several papers. Her discovery of what caused hissing in the electric arc of arc lamps led her to write The Electric Arc (1902), which became the standard textbook on the subject.

Although she was the first female member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, she was not allowed to read one of her papers before the Royal Society of London in 1901 because of her gender, a man presented it instead. She told a journalist in response to this discrimination, “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist, or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.” Little did both Hertha and Maria know how much more work would be needed before women and men would be seen as equals in not just the workplace, but particularly in the fields of science –– and little did they both know how valued their scientific contributions and women’s rights work would become.

img_5426Hertha and Maria are featured in The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is my hope, as the author of The Historical Heroines, that in reading about and coloring the portraits of these inspiring women in science, young people today will feel empowered to not only reach for their own dreams, but also help their peers – and working toward ending gender discrimination.

Find more information on Maria Mitchell, Hertha Marks Ayrton, and 29 other brilliant women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in The Historical Heroines Coloring Book: Pioneering Women in Science from the 18th and 19th Centuries (White Wave Press, 2017), written by Elizabeth Lorayne and illustrated by Kendra Shedenhelm.

Download your very own coloring pages below at your convenience!
For Mac computers press “control” and click the image to “save image as” &  For PC computers right click on the image to “save image as”



About the Author: Elizabeth Lorayne is an award-winning author and publisher of children’s books. After the success of her haiku-written series The Adventures of Piratess Tilly, whose heroine is a budding naturalist and the captain of her own ship, Elizabeth continues to produce books with themes of girl-empowerment, eco-consciousness, exploration, and science. She is an artist and mother, inspired by nature, history, and the rhythms of her surroundings. Elizabeth is a graduate of The New School in Manhattan and a current member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She resides in Newburyport, MA with her family.

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