Schooling the Brain

Some of the best mathematicians I have ever taught were females.

—Joseph J. Bingham, 1865

It does appear that on...overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is a difference in...a male and a female population.

—Larry Summers, 2005

In school, children are sorted into one of two categories: boy or girl. In classrooms, on the playground, at lunch, and even in the bathroom, girls learn what society expects from them.

In the 1900s, boys were assumed to be better at science and math.

It used to be different. In the 1800s, more girls than boys studied science and math. And here's the story of how that happened.

In the 1800s, Science was "For Girls"

More girls than boys studied geography, chemistry, biology, and physics in the 1800s. These subjects were seen as good for girls because they strengthened the mind and gave girls an appreciation of nature, and therefore God. Science didn't become a "boys" subject until the 1900s, when jobs in science became available.

Astronomy, 1815

Astronomy, 1815

Courtesy of Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library

Troughton & Simms Refracting Telescope, around 1840

Gift of University of Alabama, Department of Physics

Some girls had access to telescopes, such as this one, to study astronomy. Maria Mitchell was an astronomer and one of America's first woman scientists. She trained generations of women scientists at Vassar College.

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Botanical Notebook, 1837

Catalina Juliana Mason's Map Sampler, around 1837

Bequest of Mrs. Julian James

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In the 1900s, Science was "For Boys"

By the 1920s, the association of girls with math and science disappeared. When science became a profession, women and girls were labeled unfit to be paid, professional scientists. 

With the recent emphasis on STEM, as many girls as boys take math and science classes today. Computer science is the one exception. In fact, each year the number of girls taking computer science gets smaller. Being the only girl in class can be alienating. So girls and their mentors have formed camps and clubs to learn outside of school.

Lab class, around 1950

Lab class, around 1950

Courtesy of Monterey Peninsula College Library Archives & Special Collections Department

Who are the scientists of tomorrow?

Robot, CompSciConnect, 2018

Gift of Maryland Center for Women in Computing

Amber Melton made this robot at CompSciConnect, a University of Maryland camp. When few girls signed up for the university's computer science classes, Dr. Jan Plane realized that something in the high schools wasn't working. So she created a camp for middle schoolers to excite them about computer science by making robots, webpages, and virtual reality games.

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