restricted access Women in Science through an Archival Lens


Recent science education research indicates that classroom discussions about the underrepresentation of women in science help to promote female undergraduate student academic success and retention, especially in physics and chemistry. The "History of Women in Science" workshop described in this article provides a promising model for engaging students in these kinds of discussions. We have found that using a historical approach to teach students about the achievements and challenges faced by women in science is a powerful and productive way to engage with these issues. In this activity, students become detectives, reconstructing the history of women in science at our institution by tracing science course enrollments in the early to mid-twentieth century and investigating how the science curriculum itself has changed over time as indicated by the subjects faculty were hired to teach and course descriptions. Students also learn about the creation and eventual amalgamation of science clubs for men and women as described in the student newspaper. These examples from our archives offer a compelling and instructive set of documents with which to discuss women's experiences in and contributions to science. Moreover, this type of "discovery" assignment appeals broadly to all students and may be easily tailored to other institutional settings. By examining accounts of women in science from the archives, students develop a deeper understanding of how gender stereotypes can change over time and affect who studies science.