7 August 2016

Darwin’s Women

This is quite fascinating.  In his writings Charles Darwin was what one might call typically Victorian in his position towards women. In The Descent of Man he was occasionally less than flattering in his exploration of the role of women in relation to relation to gender – sometimes simply comparatively.  Yet in private he seems to have been a very different man indeed.

His massive collection of some 15,000 letters, stored in the Library of the University of Cambridge show that he corresponded during his lifetime with over 150 women, scientists, political agitators as well as family members (including his daughter who edited much of his work).  What he has to say to them is something of a revelation, as is the respect and deference he shows them as intellects (indeed scientists) in their own right.

Doctor Philippa Hardman of The Darwin Correspondence Project guides us through the letters and introduces us to some little known but very interesting female scientific pioneers of the past.  As well as showing a new and refreshing insight in to Darwin himself, it sheds light on the situation of women during the Victorian era, particularly in the field of scientific knowledge and its dissemination to an incredibly phallocentric society.