- Editorial NoteScience, Activism, and Collaboration: Stories from Transitional Spaces
This issue has coalesced thematically around the diverse, contingent, and contradictory contexts that both opened and restricted opportunities for women’s involvement in science and political activism. The authors of the first two articles share an interest in women in science, even if their themes are separated by time and place. One highlights a collaborative environment of observational astronomy in Enlightenment France, itself hotly divided over the presence and visibility of the femmes savantes in the scientific discoveries of the age. The other addresses new work options carved out by the first generation of trained female medical doctors in Weimar Germany. Operating in a hostile environment favoring male doctors after the First World War, this female cohort found paths to self-fulfillment through the evolving social welfare commitments undergirding the Republic. The next three articles, which examine the uncertainties of the early Cold War era in Greece and East Germany and women’s entry into electoral politics in 1968 America, capture the importance of transitional moments for re-assessing feminist activism and new state agendas. In addition, the shifting contexts push these authors to consider the historically important analytical matters of continuity and change. We also feature a contemporary collaborative moment of our own in a forum format. To honor Leila Rupp, the former editor of the Journal of Women’s History (1997–2005) and active member of the Board of Trustees (2008–2013), we held a panel at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in Atlanta. We wanted to highlight the truly pathfinding impact of Rupp’s diverse scholarship and sketch the “worlds of women” that she has mentored, touched, and shaped. Our forum presents this panel in written form. It also continues our efforts to recognize the intimate connections and intense intellectual work that characterize our own collaboration in feminist scholarship through the Journal and beyond. We round out the issue, as usual, with a number of informative book review essays.
As Meghan K. Roberts shows in “Learned and Loving,” the place of lettered women in the science of the day was a matter of intense intellectual debate and controversy in Enlightenment France. Many prominent male scientists rejected women altogether for intellectual inquiry; others used women collaborators but failed to credit their work in their own highly visible publications; and a few among them promoted and defended “brilliant women.” Answers were not simple, either, for the women scientists, as they feared public recognition would elicit scorn, sexual innuendo, or [End Page 7] derision, and tarnish their reputations. But, Roberts shows, it was precisely this contradictory context that permitted a few male scientists—notably the well-known observational astronomer Joseph Jérôme de Lalande who is the central figure in this cultural history of science—not only to draw on women’s talents for their laboratory research but to credit them extensively in their own publications. After all, observational astronomy was an unusually collaborative enterprise. In this respect, Roberts admits, Lalande was an outlier and non-representative figure; the point holds true for the transitional decades after the French Revolution as well, when public sentiments about proper gender roles and new understandings of scientific objectivity turned decisively against the intellectual woman. Yet, even in this transformed context, Lalande continued to champion femmes savantes. The reference to “loving” in Robert’s title captures the ambiguities and limitations of Lalande’s extraordinary mentorship. As revealed in his public and private writings, Lalande depicted the women in his lab as respectable women, “paragons of love and brilliance,” whose “lives were compatible with ideals of virtuous femininity and social utility.” He never saw them as “independent agents.” Placing Lalande on the spectrum of Enlightenment thought nonetheless, Roberts writes, “add[s] a new layer to our understanding of the opportunities available to and constraints placed upon” the learned woman in Enlightenment science.
In “Finding a Space in Schools,” Melissa Kravetz draws attention to the new context of social welfare regulations as part of Germany’s transition to the Weimar Republic after World War I. As in many European countries, the immediate post-war...