Uta Frith is Emeritus Professor in Cognitive Development at UCL. She is best known for her research on autism and dyslexia where she made links between mind and brain on the one hand, and mind and behaviour on the other. One of her passions is to promote women in science.
Uta has chosen Melinda Baldwin's paper 'Where are your intelligent mothers to come from?': marriage and family in the scientific career of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale FRS (1903–71)
"Kathleen Lonsdale was an eminent crystallographer and one of the first women fellows to be elected to the Royal Society. It speaks highly for Notes and Records to have attracted this unique historical account of an important aspect of the life of a 20th century woman scientist.
I picked out this paper because I found it fascinating to hear something about the personal circumstances of such an amazing woman. I was astonished to read in Baldwin’s paper that in the 1950s a major issue for pursuing a career was not only being a woman, but being a married woman was even more of an issue. I knew this was the case for women in business, but had not realized that the same was true for science. Kathleen Lonsdale had a very pragmatic approach to family and career as discussed in the paper. For instance, she acknowledged her extremely supportive husband and she had an ability to work from home when she took sabbaticals after the birth of her three children. When at some point, an engineer told her that he believed that brilliant men often inherited their gifts from intelligent mothers, but also expressed the opinion that women should not be scientists because they would inevitably leave the laboratory if they married, she replied: Where are your intelligent mothers to come from? This is the sentence the title of the paper refers to.
Baldwin concludes her essay with a call for more historical work: “at first glance, it would seem that Lonsdale’s impressive list of scientific and professional achievements should make her an important figure in the history of women in science. But despite her accomplishments, there are only a handful of scholarly pieces that discussed Lonsdale at any length…”
Kathleen Lonsdale proved against prevailing opinions that it was possible not just for women, but for married women with children, to be good scientists. Of course, to be successful, it was not enough to be a good scientist, she had to be absolutely brilliant. Actually, Lonsdale produced brilliance quite literally, being praised by the press as ‘the women who made diamonds.’
I am very proud that UCL named an imposing classical building after Kathleen Lonsdale. This proved to be a good way to make sure that she remained visible even to those who are not familiar with her science."
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