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June 25, 1997

Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972

Author Affiliations

University of Michigan Ann Arbor

JAMA. 1997;277(24):1982-1983. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540480082050

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Almost a decade and a half ago, Margaret Rossiter published Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies. A densely informative book, meticulously researched and appealingly written, it made a foundational contribution to our understanding of both the history of women scientists and the larger issue of women and professionalization. Rossiter proved beyond doubt not only that women were attracted to science from the very beginning, but that their abilities and aptitudes were no different from men's. Unfortunately, they ultimately lost a fierce battle to rethink cultural assumptions about women and participate in the scientific community in any equal and substantial way.

Rossiter's narrative was discouraging, but also inspiring. Although women wished to enter a world relentlessly hostile to their presence—Rossiter's stories of the manifestations of that hostility were often hair-raising—she showed that, against tough odds, women kept a foothold in science, working in a variety of venues, their presence and