Dr. Judith Skog, President of AIBS & Professor Emerita, George Mason University
This piece is one in a series of blog entries called “BioScience Bytes.” In them, authors provide commentary on topical issues, enlivening the sciences and making science approachable for all readers.
BioBytes for February opened with the statement about AIBS and its efforts to increase inclusion, diversity, equity, acceptance, and accessibility in the biological sciences and noted that this year, AIBS commits to being intentional about celebrating and supporting the unique heritage and experiences of all scientists. March celebrates Women’s History Month, and as I thought about celebrating the history of women in the biosciences I could not stop thinking about the women who have not been celebrated and many who have been ‘lost’ in the history of bioscience. Some of these women have finally received the recognition they deserved, such as Rosalind Franklin for DNA, Eunice Foote for the greenhouse effect, Mary Anning for her discovery of fossil dinosaurs. There are also efforts by various groups to discover the “Lost Women of Science” and make their stories known.
However, as biologists who teach and do research, some of us stumble upon women who made significant contributions to biology but are not well recognized. One such event happened to a colleague of mine while she was working on the Flora of Virginia project and found a number of specimens from the Massanutten Mountains attributed to Lena Artz. Curious as to who this was, my colleague began to search through records across the state and elsewhere and finally was able to put together a story of Lena Clemmons Artz covering her career and her botanical legacy for the Virginia Flora and beyond. That story is now on Wikipedia, and Lena Artz will no longer be an unknown name.
As we invited you to celebrate Black History Month by action rather than just reflection, let’s think about being proactive in finding women who have been ‘lost’ or who could become lost. As I thought about the women mentors I have had in my career, I checked them out on Wikipedia. Only a few are in this resource. Looking for various colleagues provided similar results; most of the women biologists I know do not have entries on general resources. While not particularly ‘lost,’ these women are not appearing on a common public resource where students, for example, might do searches.
There are many ways to contribute positively during Women’s History month to be sure women don’t become lost to the history of biology:
- Check out the women you know through your research and be sure they have entries in places such as Wikipedia where the general public and students will find them. Do not let them be the lost women of science for the future.
- Think about nominating women for awards or other positions where their skills and achievements are recognized.
- Encourage your female students to be ambitious about their careers.
- When discussing various topics in classes be sure to highlight the achievements of both men and women in that area.
- And perhaps you will also find a woman biologist lost to the history of bioscience and can make her story and achievements more broadly known.