Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Celebrating Ellen Swallow Richards on Ada Lovelace Day

Women in Chemistry: Ellen Swallow Richards: "Ellen Swallow Richards

If you're confident that your tap water is safe to drink and your groceries are safe to eat, your confidence rests on the work of Ellen Swallow Richards.

In 1887 Richards conducted an enormous, pioneering survey of drinking water in Massachusetts, which led to the establishment of water-quality standards and modern sewage treatment plants. Richards then pursued chemical studies to determine the ingredients in groceries, along with their quality, which eventually led to state food and drug standards.

Richards was the first woman to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she spent her entire career. She founded a women's chemistry laboratory at MIT and established the field of 'home economics,' which used science to improve sanitation in people's homes."

Today is Ada Lovelace Day -- the international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science.

Initially I considered posting about Ellen Richards because she and Marion Talbot founded the organization that became AAUW and during her career she faced so many of the challenges women still face today.

She initially worked at MIT for no pay, never mind fair pay! And, although she completed work for her PhD, the MIT powers-that-be balked. No PhD for a woman.

She came from a poor family and earned money cleaning to put herself through Vassar, one of the few colleges for women at that time. She couldn't get a job as an industrial chemist, so she convinced MIT to let her enroll. They noted on accepting her that her admission shouldn't be seen as setting a precedent.

Reading about Ellen Richards' career at MIT convinced me. I recently watched the video of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) addressing the AAUW National Convention on the Ten Commandments for Women Overcoming Obstacles. One of the stories she tells is how two MIT faculty members collected and presented data to the MIT administration proving that MIT was shortchanging women on lab space, research money, and positions on decision-making committees (the committees with the power). MIT listened, changed its policies, and put their money where their policies lay. That's a story I want to learn more about.

Want to know more about Ellen Swallow Richards? There are many references to her on the web. I especially liked this one at Women in Chemistry.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

1 comment:

  1. Swallow is a common Sioux surname. I wonder....