Historical comment: “‘Her joyous enthusiasm for her life-work…’ Early women authors in The American Naturalist”

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Judith L. Bronstein and Daniel I. Bolnick (Dec 2018)

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Illustration from the first woman-authored article in The American Naturalist, Lucie L. Hartt’s “A Chapter on Cuttle-Fishes” (1869).

Who were the early women authors in The American Naturalist?

The natural sciences in the 19th century were almost exclusively studied by men. Almost. But a small number of remarkable, pioneering women overcame deeply entrenched cultural barriers to publish their own contributions to the natural sciences. This journal began publication in 1867, and for decades was the leading venue in America for publishing in the natural sciences, broadly defined. Although most American Naturalist articles were male-authored, women did contribute articles even in the journal’s first decades. Over 60 women contributed a total of nearly 80 articles during the journal’s first half-century. Here, Bronstein and Bolnick examine these womens’ scientific contributions to The American Naturalist, as well as their lives and the challenges they faced to enter and stay active in science. How were they drawn into science despite the barriers to entry for women? How did some manage to establish life-long careers in science?


Women have long been underrepresented in the natural sciences, and although great progress has been made in recent decades, many subtle and not-so-subtle barriers persist. In this context, it is easy to get the impression that the early history of ecology and evolutionary biology was exclusively the domain of male researchers. In fact, a number of women made very substantial contributions to The American Naturalist in its first decades. As part of a series of retrospective essays celebrating 150 years of this journal, we highlight the scientific contributions of the women who published in it during its first fifty years (1867–1916). We also discuss the diverse paths that their scientific careers took, and the barriers that they faced along the way.