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Women in STEM: Times that Men Took Credit for our Work


In every STEM class, there’s always a carousel of old white men theories we have to learn about. Looking at PowerPoint slides of one white guy after another got me wondering…where the ladies at??? It turns out that many scientific discoveries that are credited to men, were actually discovered or developed by women. These are two examples of men taking credit for women’s advances in science:

1.     Rosalind Franklin

Image credit: Encyclopaedia Britannica


Rosie was a badass. After studying at Cambridge to be a chemist, she became incredibly skilled at x-ray crystallography, a method of photo taking that shows chemical structures. In 1951, she turned her attention to finding the structure of DNA. DNA was a mystery at the time. No one knew what it looked like or how it worked. Using her x-ray crystallography skills, Franklin made the breakthrough. She took a photo now called Photo 51 and provided evidence that DNA was shaped as a double helix.

This. Was. Revolutionary.

From this discovery, DNA went from a black box to the incredibly expansive field of molecular biology that exists today.

Yet no one knows her name. Instead in class, we learn about James Watson and Francis Crick as the scientists who discovered the shape of DNA. In reality, these two men saw Franklin’s photograph and went off to publish her findings. In 1962, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize of Physiology or Medicine. In their Nobel Prize-winning article, they only mentioned Franklin in a footnote, saying that they were “stimulated by the general knowledge” of her work.




2.     Margaret Kuenne Harlow


Image Credit: Feminist Voices


Margaret Kuenne was a psychologist, a Ph.D., and a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Since this was the 1940s, having all these accomplishments as a woman meant she was no joke. At the University, Kuenne began conducting experiments with monkeys to study infant/mother attachment. The experiment was to expose infant monkeys to either a wire “mother” monkey who had a milk bottle or a soft cloth “mother” monkey who had no bottle. Infant monkeys who given the wire “mother” showed behavior abnormalities and demonstrated signs of distress. In contrast, infant monkeys who had a soft cloth “mother” monkey were able to develop normally and integrate into adult monkey groups.

Kuenne’s experiment and the resulting the “theory of attachment” that came out of them are hallmarks of any introductory psychology class. However, Kuenne’s name won’t be found anywhere in the textbook. Her experiments and theories are accredited to her husband, Harry Harlow. Although Kuenne was technically working under her husband at the time, she received no recognition for her work and because of that she’s slipped into the shadows of STEM history.


Rosalind Franklin and Margaret Kuenne are just two examples. I can’t fathom how many more women scientist were experimenting, theorizing, expanding the bounds of science unnoticed. Even though it’s disheartening to only write quizlet flashcards for white male scientists, it brings me peace to know that there were women scientists behind the scenes


Hi. I'm Katie. I'm a first year at UVA studying *??>* but I'm here to write about the college experience with authenticity...and also to spill the tea and maybe have a sip while I'm at it ;)
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