At the Periphery

Early in American history, the pursuit of science was an inherent republican value. Scientific discourse occurred in the form of public lectures and informal gatherings in the home. Educational opportunities specifically for women were slow expanding, though these efforts made largely to produce better wives and mothers. Women were to support science, rather than practice it.

Women of this era were able to participate in science, although their contributions were often restricted to the periphery of the field. Some American upper class men supported the education of their sisters and daughters; an educated woman in the family made an excellent assistant to their own scientific endeavors. In the growing middle class, many women had to work to support their families. Options were limited but writing was one socially acceptable source of income; while remaining within their domestic spheres some women worked as popular science writers. Lastly, women had access to the “feminine” pastime of art. They could study the world around them, drawing or painting the details of flowers, landscapes, insects, and more. In this way, Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863) was perhaps the very first American woman to contribute to paleontology. She worked with her famed geologist husband, Edward Hitchcock, to illustrate geologic figures, paleontological specimens, and landscapes.