_For Her Own Good_ (p. 152-153), Ellen Swallow Richards

Ellen Swallow Richards was facing the Woman Question ("what does a woman
_do_ with her life?") at just about the time that Matthew Vassar endowed a
college for women.  Ellen packed up her things and went to study.  Her
relationship with the astronomer Maria Mitchell was the catalyst she needed
to push herself into the realm of science.  She chose to study chemistry at
MIT. From _For Her Own Good_ (p. 152-153):

"The faculty of MIT debated for weeks whether to admit Ellen Swallow and
finally did so only under the kind of conditions with which a group of
surgeons would have invited Typhoid Mary to join them in the operating
room.  She could only be a `special' student.  She had to study separately
from male students and work in her own segregated laboratory.  She could
not earn a graduate degree no matter what she accomplished.  And, finally,
to make sure she hadn't become `unwomanly' as a result of her studies, the
professors would ask her to sort their papers and mend their suspenders: `I
try to keep all sorts of such things as needles, thread, pins, scissors,
etc., around. . .' She wrote with some satisfaction, `they can't say study
spoils me for anything else'.(26)

"When Mrs. Richards graduated from MIT -- with a second bachelor's degree
-- there were still no places for her in the male world of chemistry.  MIT
graciously lent her a lab where she could train women high school teachers
in basic chemistry.  But this was not a job, with position and pay, it was
just the kind of `good work' that an intelligent faculty wife like Mrs.
Richards might be expected to perform.  She could assist the male
scientists, befriend them, sew for them, even funnel a little of their
knowledge off to women teachers, but she could not _be one of them_.

"Barred from chemistry, Richards turned her formidable energies toward the
creation of a new science in which she _would_ have a place on an equal
footing with men.  In 1873 she announced, in an address to a high society
gathering, the birth of the new science of `oekology.'  One admiring
biographer has interpreted this as the premature birth of _ecology_, in the
contemporary environmentalist sense, but what she was actually unveiling
was the infant version of the `science of right living'; or as she put it
then `the science to teach people how to live,' which was to blend
chemistry, biology, and engineering principles into practical guidelines
for daily life.  The scientific establishment was not, however, taken in by
Richards' strategem, and dismissed `oekology' as a kind of `hokum' like
faith healing and patent medicine.  Later Richards tried to launch the
`science of right living' again under the new label of `euthenics'; and was
again rebuffed.  The scientific community which had rejected her for trying
to be a scientist now turned against her for not being scientific enough."

(26) Robert Clarke, _Ellen Swallow: The Woman Who Founded Ecology_
(Chicago: Follett, 1973), p. 32-33.

The section goes on to tell about how Richards, with her scorn for women's
groups and then-modern feminism, swallowed (pun not intended) her
indignation and went about, lecturing at women's groups, to get them so
hyped to *wanting* to learn (what finally became called) Domestic Science
that they would demand classes in it.  The trend was picked up by those who
sold it under the banner of "Let the New Science come into your homes, and
give back the pride in being at home that women used to have".  (The more
things change, the more they stay the same -- even now, each "first" woman
who breaks into an ever-more-exclusive sanctum runs the risk of feeling
compelled to make some concession to the patriarchal state which may
eventually sell out her own sisters.....  Sigh)


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