December 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Emilie du Chatelet

Born in 1706, this French mathematician and physicist was (unfortunately for her career) a woman. In order to gain entry to Gradot's coffeehouse to participate in scientific discussions, she dressed up like a man. She translated Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, and for many years hers was the only translation into French of this important work.

Isn't it sad that a capable woman would have to pretend to be a man in order to contribute? There have been many women who have dressed as men so that they could travel where they needed or wanted to go, learn what they needed or wanted to know, or do what they needed or wanted to accomplish.

For example, James Gray was really Hannah Snell, but she pretended to be a man so she could travel around England looking for her husband. (She eventually discovered he had been executed!) She also fought bravely as a Royal Marine. Denis Smith was really Dorothy Lawrence, who dressed as a soldier during World War I so she could achieve her dream of being a war reporter. James Barry was born Margaret Ann Bulkley; she pretended to be a man all her life so that she could be a doctor. Barry rose to be Inspector General in the British Army, in charge of military hospitals.  

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