By Kate Viscardi
Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated on the second Tuesday of October every year, while Science in the Pub (PubSci) meets on the third Wednesday of every month. Starting in 2009, Ada Lovelace Day was originally a day of blogging about female role models in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but quickly grew into events run around the country. PubSci sticks to its usual date but has an annual Ada Lovelace event each October. This year the speaker was Dr Charlie Lea who, a few years ago, used a PubSci audience as guinea pigs in her PhD research. Charlie is now a Psychology lecturer at the University of Brighton and returned to PubSci to take a different approach to commemorate Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.
Despite her programmes for Babbage’s unrealised programmable computer, and Babbage’s own acknowledgement of his “Maths fairy”, Ada Lovelace was dismissed by many contemporaries in the early 19th Century and her efforts attributed to Babbage. Charlie took this as her starting point and discussed the way that women have been whitewashed out of the history of Psychology.
Educated women were regarded with horror in 19th Century society. G Stanley Hall said: “Educated women are functionally castrated”, but there were pioneers determined to succeed, and succeed they did. Nevertheless, they have still been largely written out. Charlie attributed this to the bias of misogynist historians and that women tended to work in under-valued areas, such as educational, social and occupational psychology. Much less famous than the “founding fathers” of the discipline, Charlie gave brief biographies of some amazing women.
Mary Whiton Calking founded the Psychology lab at Wellesley College and was already working on memory and synaesthesia at the start of the last century. William James taught her in his own home and described her as his best PhD student ever, but Harvard never awarded her PhD. No US university would let Christine Ladd Franklin into their Physics labs, so she switched to Logic and Mathematics and fulfilled the requirements for her PhD at Johns Hopkins University in 1882, but it was not awarded until 1926. She was introduced to Psychology in Germany and developed her own theory of colour vision.
Margaret Floy Washburn did ground-breaking work on the animal mind, including maze-learning rats. Lillian Moller Gilbreth, whose interests were in engineering and management theory (“time and motion”), left academia and together with her husband ran a consultancy company. Amongst other things she invented the pedal bin – and they also had 12 children.
Charlie summed up by saying that women invented important paradigms yet had difficulties even in being awarded their PhDs, getting lectureships or funding. They were influential teachers but the areas in which they worked were often devalued. They have also suffered from mis-attribution of their work, for instance by being described as “X’s student” instead of being given the dignity of their own names. And they continue to be whitewashed out. Finding little mention of women in histories of psychology, Charlie searched her university library for a book specifically about female psychologists and found just one, published in 1982 in the USA.
Science in the Pub meets at 7pm on the third Wednesday of every month, upstairs at the Old King’s Head, 47–49 Borough High Street, London SE1 1NA. Arrive early to take advantage of the pub's Happy Hour from 6–7pm. Our next speaker, on November 18th, will be Dr Michael Byford on Antibiotic Resistance.