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Photos by Celine Bowe.

Courage and Passion at the Museum of Nature showcases trailblazing Canadian women in STEM—until 03.31.19

By Apartment613 on January 2, 2019

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by Celine Bowe — IG: @el_bow


Courage and Passion: Canadian Women in Natural Sciences celebrates women who had the courage to challenge societal norms and break barriers to pursue their passion for science. They were pioneers not only for the equality of women in the work force, but for women in careers in the natural sciences. This exhibition showcases trailblazers past and present and demonstrates how women in science continue to create a future with plentiful opportunities for the next generation.

Social media is playing a positive role in tackling pervasive sexist attitudes that still prevail today within the sciences with hashtags such as #DistractinglySexy and #GirlsWithToys. It’s also a great tool to encourage and inspire girls to get into Science with #WomenInStem (STEM: science, technology, engineering and math) and #WomenInScience. According to Statistics Canada 2014, women currently, only make up 22% of the STEM workforce in Canada.

The exhibit provides insight on some of the trailblazing women that made careers in the natural sciences possible for women today, along with the tools they used.

From the 1700’s to the early 1900’s it was not socially acceptable for women to work outside the home. However, during the Victorian Era it became fashionable for upper-class women to have scientific “hobbies,” particularly in botany. Catherine Parr Traill (1802–1899) was one of the first settlers to publish in great detail about Canada’s climate, plants and animals.

Some of the tools used in early herbal medicine at the Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal. Catherine Jérémie (1664–1744) was one of the earliest botanists and was known as a healing magician.

Harriet Brooks (1876–1933) was the first female nuclear physicist in Canada. Her physics research still serves as a foundation for nuclear science today.

Tools used by Harriet Brooks to conduct her groundbreaking experiments on radiation. Her work led to the discovery that radioactivity results from the disintegration of atoms.

In 1918, Canadian women received the right to vote and during WWI and WWII, many joined the workforce while the men went off to war. In 1955, the ban on married women holding full time positions was lifted. Margaret Newton (1887–1971) was the Saviour of Wheat. Newton’s groundbreaking Agricultural research led to the end of wheat rust which was a feared and deleterious crop disease.

Detailed drawing of wheat rust by Margaret Newton.

Margaret Newton’s agricultural research led to the development of wheat varieties that were resistant to stem rust. Samples of wheat pictured.

The second half of the 20th Century saw major advances in science and technology and changing attitudes towards women, opening the door to more career opportunities for women in STEM.

Zoologist Anne Innis Dagg was the first Western scientist to study animal behavior in the wild in Africa. In 1956, she travelled by herself to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild and wrote some of the first publications on giraffes.

Viola MacMillan (1903–1993) was a mineral prospector and was the first female member and later president of the Prospector’s and Developers Association of Canada. She was also the first woman to be inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Copper, graphite and malachite.

Kathy Conlan is a Marine Biologist at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I will let you discover for yourself why she is so hugely inspiring.

Cold water diving equipment used by Canadian Museum of Nature’s marine biologist, Kathy Conlan.


Courage and Passion: Canadian Women in Natural Sciences is on display at the Canadian Museum of Nature until March 31, 2019 in the rotunda. Museum admission, which includes this exhibition, is regularly $14.50 for adults ($12.50 for students; $10.50 for children) and is free every Thursday evening from 5pm–8pm.

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