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Missed No Extra: Elizabeth Wagner Reed, Who Resurrected Legacies of Ladies in Science



This text is a part of Missed, a collection of obituaries about outstanding folks whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Occasions.

In 1992, the geneticist Elizabeth Wagner Reed self-published “American Women in Science Before the Civil War,” a e book highlighting 22 Nineteenth-century scientists. One in all them was Eunice Newton Foote, who wrote a paper on her outstanding discovery about greenhouse gases, “a phenomenon which is of concern to us even now,” Reed wrote.

Foote was forgotten quickly after the paper was learn aloud by a male scientist at a convention in 1856 and printed the next yr. A male scientist was ultimately credited with the invention.

Like Foote, Reed herself fell into obscurity, a sufferer of the erasure of feminine scientists that the historian Margaret Rossiter coined the Matilda Impact — named for the sociologist Matilda Joslyn Gage, whose 1870 pamphlet, “Woman as Inventor,” condemned the concept ladies didn’t have the talents to achieve the sector.

Reed, nevertheless, made important contributions to the sciences.

She wrote a landmark examine about mental incapacity genetics, helped discovered a area of inhabitants genetics and wrote many extra papers on botany, the biology of girls and sexism in science.

Reed persevered in her analysis even when she discovered herself a widow with a toddler throughout World Warfare II. By the point of her dying, in 1996, despite publishing greater than 34 scholarly papers, public college curriculums and two books, the document didn’t bend in her favor. It wasn’t till 2020, when the scientist and scholar Marta Velasco Martín printed a paper on Reed, that her legacy was resurrected.

Reed was born Elizabeth Wagner on Aug. 27, 1912, in Baguio, in what was then referred to as the Philippine Islands, to Catherine (Cleland) and John Ovid Wagner. John was from Ohio and labored in development there on the time; Catherine, from Northern Eire, was working within the Philippines as a nurse.

The household later settled on a farm in Ohio, the place Elizabeth grew up choosing raspberries “from dawn to dusk,” her son William Reed stated in a telephone interview.

“She learned how to work really hard,” he added. “I remember her saying how much she loved school, partly because it wasn’t doing farm work.”

On the finish of 1 summer time, he stated, she used a few of her earnings to purchase a e book about wildflowers in Ohio — “her first purchase was a scientific book.”

She would go on to domesticate wildflowers in her yard as an grownup, volunteer at a wildflower arboretum in Minnesota and write about botany in scientific articles and in instructional supplies for kids. Reed’s daughter, Catherine Reed, advised Martín that her mom “loved nature, especially plants, and, wanted to be a scientist from a very early age.”

In 1933, Reed earned her bachelor’s diploma at Ohio State College, the place she additionally earned a grasp’s in 1934 and a Ph.D. in plant physiology in 1936. She put herself via college with a scholarship and by washing dishes and dealing within the cafeteria. In 1939 and 1940, she printed her first two papers, one in regards to the results of pesticides on bean crops and the opposite about how varied forms of dusts have an effect on the speed of water loss in yellow coleus crops by night time and day.

In 1940, she married a fellow scientist, James Otis Beasley, and had a son, John, with him simply after James left to combat in World Warfare II in 1942. When her husband was killed within the warfare the subsequent yr, she supported herself and her son by educating at 5 completely different universities. “The first part of her life,” William Reed stated, “was sheer determination.”

She started working with the geneticist Sheldon C. Reed, whom she married in 1946, and collectively they helped discovered the sector of Drosophila inhabitants genetics, which makes use of fruit flies as a easy and economical technique of learning genetics in a laboratory whereas providing necessary insights into related species.

Quickly after, the couple moved to Minnesota, the place Sheldon was employed because the director of the Dight Institute of Human Genetics on the College of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Elizabeth was denied a job on the college, which cited guidelines in opposition to nepotism.

The Reeds went on to write down a e book about mental disabilities that analyzed knowledge from 80,000 folks and their households; the examine, they stated, was “one of the largest genetic investigations so far completed.”

They discovered that disabilities might be brought on by genetic or environmental elements and will due to this fact be heritable. Additionally they proposed — to controversy that also exists at this time — that such disabilities had been preventable via schooling of most people and voluntary sterilization or contraception of potential dad and mom with low I.Q.s.

Although Elizabeth’s identify was listed first as creator, a letter of acknowledgment calling the couple’s work “truly magnificent” referred to them as “Dr. and Mrs. Reed.”

Reed was fairly conscious that her husband was receiving extra credit score, her son William stated, however she by no means let it embitter her. In 1950, nevertheless, she printed a paper on sexism within the sciences primarily based on her examine of 70 ladies working within the area. It discovered that marriage and childbirth decreased their productiveness and generally even dissuaded them from persevering with their careers. It led her to mentor ladies within the area via the advocacy group Graduate Ladies in Science.

“She was a scientist before it was popular for women to become scientists,” Nancy Segal, a psychologist at California State College recognized for her examine of twins, stated in an interview, “and she was a great role model for so many of us women postdocs at the time.”

In writing “American Women in Science Before the Civil War,” Reed corresponded with archivists and scoured card catalogs, journals and proceedings of associations and societies. Along with recognizing Eunice Foote’s work nearly twenty years earlier than different scientists did, the e book included biographies of, amongst others, the astronomer Maria Mitchell; Ellen Smith Tupper, who was referred to as the “Queen Bee of Iowa” for her examine of that insect; and the entomologist Mary Townsend.

Reed wrote that it was a sworn statement to the strengths of those ladies that they pursued science even though they had been “often denied entry to colleges and unable to attain professional status.”

Reed additionally supported educating youngsters about science in order that they’d have the instruments to resolve what she referred to as the “current crises of exploding populations and deteriorating environments.” She printed papers about educating correct scientific strategies in colleges and created curriculums with the College of Minnesota.

“Classrooms always house some living organisms,” she wrote, tongue-in-cheek, within the Journal of the Minnesota Academy of Science in 1969. “In many, unfortunately, all are of a single species, Homo sapiens. The population consists of many immature species (children) and a few adults, usually female (teachers). This makes for a certain homogeneity, but it can be alleviated by introduction of other living species, animal or plant.”

The truth that Reed was, like so a lot of her predecessors, misplaced to historical past is indicative of the pervasive sexism of her period. However ladies at this time proceed to face hurdles in coming into scientific fields. A report from the Massachusetts Institute Know-how this yr discovered that “the underrepresentation of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields continues to persist,” with ladies making up solely 28 p.c of the STEM work power.

Like Reed, her daughter, Catherine, was a scientist, having earned a Ph.D. in ecology, however she finally grew to become so disillusioned that she held a ceremonial burning of her diploma and as a substitute turned to art work and championing her mom’s legacy. She printed her mom’s e book on American ladies in science on her web site in about 2010. She died in 2021 at 73.

Elizabeth Wagner Reed died at 83 on July 14, 1996, most certainly of most cancers. She acknowledged her signs, however, understanding what the remedies could be like and, to her mid, the possible final result, she by no means sought a analysis. (Sheldon Reed died in 2003.)

William Reed stated there was no pleasure like taking a stroll together with his mom, who may describe each plant and animal they handed. She and Sheldon had been avid bird-watchers (and occasional polka dancers), and the household spent many holidays at Lake Itasca, Minn., enjoyable below old-growth Norway Pines.

Reed’s favourite flower was the showy woman’s slipper, the state flower of Minnesota, an orchid notoriously tough to domesticate, just like the careers of most of the ladies she wrote about. Its Latin identify is Cypripedium reginae, with reginae that means queen.

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