New Book | Minerva’s French Sisters

Posted in books by Editor on May 24, 2021

Professor Gelbart will be discussing her book this Thursday, 27 May, at 6pm (ET), in an online session hosted by The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. From Yale UP:

Nina Rattner Gelbart, Minerva’s French Sisters: Women of Science in Enlightenment France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), 360 pages, ISBN: 978-0300252569, $40.

A fascinating collective biography of six female scientists in eighteenth-century France, whose stories were largely written out of history

This book presents the stories of six intrepid Frenchwomen of science in the Enlightenment whose accomplishments—though celebrated in their lifetimes—have been generally omitted from subsequent studies 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.


Actors in a Supporting Role

Introduction: A Sextet of Firsts, Variations on a Theme
Interlude: Letter to Elisabeth, Reine, Jeanne, Madeleine Françoise, Marie-Marguerite, and Geneviève
1  Mathematician and Philosopher: The ‘Celebrated Mlle Ferrand’ (1700–1752)
Interlude: Letter to Elisabeth
2  Astronomer and ‘Learned Calculator’: Nicole Reine Lepaute (1723–1788)
Interlude: Letter to Reine
3  Botany in the Field and in the Garden: Jeanne Baret (1740–1807) and Madeleine Françoise Basseporte (1701–1780)
Interlude: Letters to Jeanne and Madeleine Françoise
4  Anatomist and Inventor: Marie-Marguerite Biheron and Her Medical Museum (1719–1795)
Interlude: Letter to Marie-Marguerite
5  Chemist and Experimentalist: Marie Geneviève Charlotte Thiroux d’Arconville and Her Choice of Anonymity (1720–1805)
Interlude: Letter to Geneviève


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