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Gertrude Elion - The Job Hunt - Women in Science

Historically, women's involvement in science was limited by assumptions about the aptitudes and proper roles of the two sexes. With society long characterizing science as rational, objective, and analytical and women as irrational, sentimental, and emotional, science was considered inappropriate for and beyond the capabilities of all but "unnatural" women.

Although individual women have always been involved in scientific work, until recently the vast majority lacked access to the necessary education. Even after women began to enter formal higher education in the 19th century, female scientists were often excluded from research and relegated to low-ranking and low-paying jobs. Many of those women who did break into the scientific world were shunted into such "feminine" spheres as home economics or nutrition.

World War I opened doors for female scientists when many of their male counterparts became involved in the war effort. During the Depression, however, employers were reluctant to give scarce jobs to women, who did not enjoy increased employment opportunities until World War II. After the war, women in science again struggled to find fulfilling work.

In the United States, the situation has improved significantly in the last few decades, particularly since Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments guaranteed women equal access to and equal treatment in all higher education programs receiving federal funding. Although women still have far to go to attain parity with men—a 1991 American Association of University Women report indicated that girls are still systematically, if unintentionally, discouraged from pursing scientific interests—they have made considerable progress in the scientific arena.

  1. Susan A. Ambrose, Kristin L. Dunkle, Barbara B. Lazarus, Indira Nair, and Deborah A. Harkus, Journeys of Women in Science and Engineering: No Universal Constants (Philadelphia: Temple University press, 1997).
  2. Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1993).
  3. Martha J. Bailey, American Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1994).

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Gertrude Elion - The Job Hunt - Women in Science." (Viewed on December 10, 2019) <>.


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