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Defining Women’s Scientific Enterprise
Mount Holyoke Faculty and the Rise of American Science
Miriam R. Levin

2004 • 224 pp. 16 illus. 6 x 9"
Women's Studies / Education History

$24.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-554-1

"Levin tells a remarkable story—all the more remarkable because of a paucity of sources . . . Levin has produced an exciting history of an important school, one that has much to say about the development of science in the United States and of women's changing roles in that practice."ISIS

An important new look at how gender, religion, pedagogy, and geography help shape women’s scientific work.

This fascinating reappraisal of the relationship of women and the scientific enterprise focuses on the efforts of Protestant women science faculty at Mount Holyoke College to advance themselves and their institution from its founding as an evangelical Protestant seminary for women by Mary Lyon in 1837 to the present. Contrary to most history-of-science interpretations of women’s professional experience, Levin suggests that in several important ways New England Protestant culture -- and the zeal of women faculty at a college established to train female missionaries -- created a learning environment that enabled science faculty to establish and maintain a niche for themselves and to contribute to the development of scientific enterprise, particularly during Mount Holyoke’s first hundred years.

Levin’s study reflects the paradigm shift in writing about science inspired by the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which transformed the history of science from its exclusive focus on scientific discoveries about how nature operates to a field that pays much more attention to the social roots of scientific discoveries. Historians of science now routinely consider both “external” as well as “internal” developments in the co-production of science.

Levin examines science at Mount Holyoke College in four critical “externalist” dimensions: religion, gender, geography, and pedagogy. She shows how the unique blending of a religious and female calling took place in a particular geographical setting -- a relatively isolated college town in New England. She also shows how new ideas about “doing science” became translated into new ways of teaching science and how pedagogy and scientific discoveries are mutually interactive.

Ultimately, Levin presents an intriguing case study of an alternative way of doing science -- college-based, women-based, religion-based, teaching-based -- one wholly different from the “rise of the research university” model that has become the basis for the history of academic science in the United States. In Levin’s book, Mount Holyoke itself becomes an experiment that raises a basic question: Is there another way to do science?

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Reviews / Endorsements

Attentive to Mount Holyoke's religious origins and its ongoing sense of education as a calling, Levin analyzes how this outlook was transformed from its founders' natural theology outlook into its purposeful education of women that included science. The Journal of American History

"Levin's analysis of the limitations that the Mount Holyoke faculty accepted and imposed on themselves as women is probing, poignant, and insightful, as is her discovery of their pride in their scientific work and investment in the partial equality with men that their pursuit of science made possible... Historians interested in the secularization process in American culture and its residual ties to religious life will find no better analysis or case in point."American Historical Review

“Levin avoids intellectual jargon, and she writes with great fidelity to her sources. One feels her commitment to getting this story right, with all of its shades of grey.”The New England Quarterly"Levin's study elucidates the key role of Mount Holyoke—and, one can infer, a small number of other colleges, in advancing higher education for women, and in the curious interplay between science and religion throughout most of our history." —Richard Ekman, president, Council of Independent Colleges

"Historian of science Miriam Levin disentangles the threads of gender, religion, and science woven at Mount Holyoke for the century since its founding in 1837, providing fascinating insights into the education, roles, and responsibilities of women scientists, so central to the fabric of American science today."Sue V. Rosser, Dean and Professor, Ivan Allen College, Georgia Institute of Technology

From the Book:

“[Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary] established the precedent that her select group of women were preordained to be superior to men in their capacity for self-denial and perfection in the rational exercise of their vocation as natural teachers -- that they were better at inventing ways to attend to details and hands-on work in science than men, whose forte lay in conceptualizing the big picture of nature. If men introduced students to the laws of nature -- the organization of the physical and biological world and the principles on which natural phenomena operated -- women taught them the details of the processes of organization by engaging them in hands-on experience.” --From the Introduction

MIRIAM R. LEVIN is Associate Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University. She is the author of numerous publications on the history of science, technology and education.

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 13:23:02 -0500