"Minerva’s French Sisters" by Nina Rattner Gelbart

Minerva’s French Sisters Women of Science in Enlightenment France Nina Rattner Gelbart

Publication date:
22 Jun 2021
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156mm
19 b-w illus.

This book presents the stories of six intrepid women of science in eighteenth-century France whose lives and accomplishments—though celebrated in their lifetimes—have been largely written out of the history of their period: mathematician and philosopher Elisabeth Ferrand, astronomer Nicole Reine Lepaute, field naturalist Jeanne Barret, garden botanist and illustrator Madeleine Françoise Basseporte, anatomist and inventor Marie-Marguerite Biheron, and chemist Geneviève d’Arconville. By adjusting our lens we can find them.

In a society where science was not yet an established profession for men, much less women, these six audacious and inspiring figures made their mark on their respective fields of science and on Enlightenment society, as they defied gender expectations and conventional norms. Their boldness and contributions to science were appreciated by such luminaries as Franklin, the philosophes, and many European monarchs. The book is written in an unorthodox style to match the women’s breaking of boundaries.

Nina Rattner Gelbart is professor of history and Anita Johnson Wand Professor of Women's Studies at Occidental College. Her previous books include Feminine and Opposition Journalism in Old Regime France and The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray.