Learned and Loving: Representing Women Astronomers in Enlightenment France


Using the example of Joseph Jérôme Lalande (1730–1807) and his collaborators Nicole-Reine Lepaute (1723–1788) and Marie-Jeanne-Amélie LeFrançois (1760–1832), this article reconstructs the work done by women astronomers and examines how Lalande described them in his correspondence and publications. Lalande stressed their emotional sensitivity and deep connections to their family, but made clear that women’s emotions fueled rather than conflicted with their scientific research. In so doing, he implicitly argued against assumptions that women’s domestic ties made them ill-suited for serious research. Yet even as this rhetoric supported learned women, it also placed significant constraints upon them: they were not imagined as autonomous figures. Furthermore, Lalande’s writings show that the bar was set high for “femmes savantes” (learned women). They could pursue advanced scientific research, and be publicly credited for their work, but only if they maintained a grueling double schedule of scientific and domestic work.