Headstrong, highlighting 52 of history’s talented female scientists

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the American cardiologist and founder of pediatric cardiology, Helen Brook Taussig’s death. She was instrumental in treating blue baby syndrome, which saved the lives of many. However, her name is largely unknown to the general public. So, what other strong female scientists remain in the shadows and how can we highlight their contributions to society? DiscovHER takes a closer look at a book tackling these questions.

Rachel Swaby, author of Headstrong: 52 Women who Changed Science- And the World, got the idea for the book after reading an obituary for the brilliant propulsion engineer Yvonne Brill in the New York Times. Instead of immediately highlighting her impact and contributions, the piece started with, “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” Only in the second paragraph did readers learn about her significant research and work: among them, her invention of a propulsion system to keep communication satellites in orbit, and the fact that she had received the national Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011. Rachel, along with many others, was perplexed by the way in which Brill, her life, and her work, was represented.



So, Rachel went on a mission to bring to light the accomplishments of 52 of history’s most talented female scientists (who are no longer living). The list is, of course, far from exhaustive, but it allows readers to learn about women who have had significant impacts in seven different fields: Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, The Earth and the Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention.


Headstrong covers a few well-known profiles like Rachel Carson, Ada Lovelace and Sally Ride, and highlights the accomplishments of women scientists who History has, for the most part, overlooked. One example (among 52) is Hilde Mangold: a German embryologist whose 1923 dissertation was the foundation of her mentor, Hans Spemann’s discovery of the embryonic organizer, for which he won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1935.


Informative, compelling, and inspiring, our only complaint is that Headstrong leaves you wanting more! What other books do you recommend to discover more about women scientists? Let us know @4womeninscience

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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