Due to some behind-the-scenes digital footprint weirdness, I discovered that Google Scholar was reporting one of my papers as being written in 1759. That got me thinking: asides from outing me as a vampire to the world, who is the Sharon from 1759? And before you ask, no, my skin does not sparkle like diamonds in the sun!
This process of looking back to 1759 highlighted my bias about women at that time. I expected to hear about difficult lives and fashions. While some of this was true (panniers!), women writers existed, at least those fortunate to be born into privilege and with understanding male family members to support them.
My colleague Jessie and I come from a science background, and even that was not so strange. The first paper by a woman was published in the Royal Philosophical Society’s Transactions; all credit to Anne Whitfeld and her report on the thunderstorm that struck her home in 1759 (Whitfeld & Van Rixtel, 1759). By the 1780s, Caroline Herschel was discovering comets (Herschel, 1787) and working as an astronomer for the King (Hoskin, 2005). She was the first woman to be made a member of the Royal Society, albeit honorary, and managed to do all that while still taking care of her household duties. Chemist Marie-Anne Lavoisier was born in 1758 and feminist philosopher and author Mary Wollstonecraft in 1759.
Had we been born into the right circumstances, perhaps we would have printed our paper; not everything was so straightforward. I was born in Ireland and studied in Trinity College Dublin. In 1759, they were putting the finishing touches on the west front on College Green, but women would not be permitted to study there until 1904.
Herschel, C. (1787). An Account of a New Comet. In a Letter from Miss Caroline Herschel to Charles Blagden, MD Sec. RS. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 77, 1-3. Retrieved from http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/77/1.full.pdf
Hoskin, M. (2005). Caroline Herschel as observer. Journal for the History of Astronomy, 36(4), 373-406. Retrieved from http://adsbit.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?2005JHA….36..373H&classic=YES
Whitfeld, A., & Van Rixtel, J. (1759). An Account of the Effects of a Storm of Thunder and Lightning at Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, on the 16th of July, 1759: In a Letter from Mrs. Anne Whitfeld. Communicated by Mr. John van Rixtel, F. R. S. Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), 51, 282-286. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/105375