Q: What inspired you to write The Historical Heroines Coloring Book?
As the mother of a young girl in today’s society, I felt driven to offer an alternative narrative to the one I learned in school. For example, I don’t think young women should only be taught that eighteenth and nineteenth-century women were deemed “hysterical” and therefore incapable of being treated as equal to men. Instead, I wanted to create a playful, educational way to highlight and celebrate the women scientists who persevered despite the gender discrimination they faced.
The pioneering women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in The Historical Heroines Coloring Book are incredible role models for girls today – girls who may struggle to feel included or be accepted in their own pursuit of STEM education and careers. My hope is that, through reading and coloring the portraits of these fiercely persistent, capable women, young people, will feel inspired to work harder toward reaching their own dreams.
Q: Why do girls need to know about women in science in history?
Learning about women scientists who broke with tradition to pursue their dreams and make discoveries is inspiring! I believe that it is particularly important to demonstrate to girls today that there always have been women and girls throughout the centuries who were curious about the natural world and wanted to contribute to society through science; that just because you are a girl does not mean you are incapable of becoming a scientist or engineer or mathematician. However, it may mean you have to work even harder. Unfortunately, even though we’re making strides, women still face discrimination in the workplace, including in STEM careers. So I really want to encourage young women and girls to pursue their interest in STEM.
A hope of mine is that in reading about these women, girls will feel empowered to continue their math and science exploration and hard work, because representation matters. When we see other women in history and our culture conducting research and making a difference, we believe it’s possible – and maybe, just maybe, my daughter’s generation will be the one to finally end gender discrimination.
Q: Although The Historical Heroines Coloring Book covers extraordinary heroines from diverse backgrounds, nations and fields of study, could you tell us about one or two of the American scientists in your book and what barriers they had to overcome?
American scientists Alice Ball and Nettie Stevens shared one thing in common – credit for their hard work and discoveries was taken by men. Fortunately, one of Alice Ball's male colleagues called foul and made sure proper credit was given to her. Alice was not only the first African American woman, but also the first American woman ever to receive a master’s degree in chemistry. She isolated the active chemical compound in chaulmoogra oil so that it could be given to leprosy patients through injection, and her method was used until the 1940s. Only recently, in 2000, her work was commemorated with a bronze plaque placed at the very chaulmoogra tree she used to extract the oil from in Hawaii.
Nettie Stevens still has not been properly credited for her discovery despite proof that her work was done independently from her male colleague, biologist Edmund Beecher Wilson. Instead, Edmund is known for the discovery that sex is determined by the size difference of a single pair of chromosomes. Nettie had shared her breakthrough in a 1905 paper, but Edmund’s name continues to be attached to the discovery rather than Nettie’s. It’s truly a shame! And these are just two examples of the discrimination that women have faced throughout history.
Other barriers include not being paid for intellectual contributions, not being officially awarded a doctoral title and degree, or not being allowed to attend college without approval by the male board of directors or professors. The challenges have shifted and morphed over the years, but women still face discrimination. I hope that with every new book, movie, class, or conversation that enlightens the general public of the past and present struggles women face in science and other fields, such barriers will soon be left to the pages of history.