Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Rewriting the Story of Girls’ Education in STEM: Past and Present

A forum held at the Wagner Free Institute of Science on March 7, 2019, and continued online here.



Is the story of American girls’ and women’s access to science and math education a direct path from exclusion to inclusion? What does equity for girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) look like, and how do we get there? Pairing a historian and educational researcher, this event will take you from the 1800s through the present, including surprising histories, continuing challenges, and current strategies. 
Kim Tolley, Ed.D., Professor in the School of Education at Notre Dame de Namur University and author of  The Science Education of American Girls: A Historical Perspective  (2003), will show how the history of science education from the early nineteenth century through the late twentieth century reveals periods of increased access and opportunity as well as periods of backlash and retrenchment. 
Natalie King, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University and founder of  I AM STEM , will explore how we can engage girls of color in STEM learning through civic leadership, activism, and intergenerational relationships.

Questions or comments about this event or others like it? Let us know.



Natalie King Georgia State University

Natalie King is an assistant professor of science education in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University. Her scholarly work focuses on advancing Black girls in STEM education, community-based youth programs, and the role of curriculum in fostering equity in science teaching and learning. Dr. King is passionate about preparing students to enter careers within the STEM disciplines and founded I AM STEM— an informal STEM program that provides a comprehensive curriculum embracing students’ cultural experiences while preparing them to become productive and critically-conscious citizens. Dr. King partners with businesses, organizations, and institutions to provide children with access to comprehensive academic summer enrichment programs. She is particularly interested in dismantling divisive walls and centering faith-based institutions as an underutilized resource in the community. Dr. King offers trainings and curricular support so that local organizations can deliver high-quality and affordable STEM programs to develop this generation’s scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, and mathematicians. Her work is published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Journal of Multicultural Affairs, The Science Teacher, Middle Grades Research Journal, Teaching and Teacher Education, and the Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals.

Kim Tolley Notre Dame de Namur

Kim Tolley is a historian of education and Professor at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU). She received her doctorate from U.C. Berkeley in 1996. She is the author of Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison, 1815-1845 (2015) and The Science Education of American Girls: A Historical Perspective (2003), which the Association of College and Research Libraries designated an Outstanding Academic Title. She is co-editor (with Nancy Beadie) of Chartered Schools: Two Hundred Years of Independent Academies in the United States, 1727 – 1925 (2002) and editor of Transformations in Schooling: Comparative and Historical Perspectives (2007) and Professors in the Gig Economy: Unionizing Adjunct Faculty in America (2018). She has served as the President of the History of Education Society (2018), as Program Chair for Division F-History and Historiography of AERA (2008) and as Education Network Representative for the Social Science History Association (SSHA). Her current research interests include women and science, education and slavery, and the response to school vaccination requirements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Representation Matters
Kabria Baumgartner

Departments of English and Women's and Gender Studies, University of New Hampshire

Kabria Baumgartner is an associate professor of American studies in the English department and core faculty in the Women's and Gender Studies department at the University of New Hampshire. Before her arrival at the University of New Hampshire in 2016, Professor Baumgartner taught at the College of Wooster and Amherst College. Prior to that, she earned a Ph.D. in African American Studies and a Certificate in Feminist Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a M.A. summa cum laude in African American Studies and B.A. cum laude in English from the University of California, Los Angeles.

It was invigorating to watch this panel on the science education of girls in the United States. There was great synergy between the presentations of Kim Tolley and Natalie King. In this comment, I aim to continue that by drawing out two aphorisms that resonated with me: first, representation matters and second, science is everywhere. 

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Recovering the Hidden Histories of Women in STEM
Susan Hanket Brandt

Department of History, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Susan Brandt received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her PhD in History from Temple University. Her dissertation, "Gifted Women and Skilled Practitioners:  Gender and Healing Authority in the Delaware Valley, 1740-1830," was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. Women's History by the Organization of American Historians. Brandt has published an article in Early American Studies and a chapter in Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World, edited by Barbara Oberg. She is under contract with Penn Press to publish a book titled, Doctresses, Wise Women, and Healers: Women’s Medical Authority in Early Philadelphia. Prior to pursuing a career in history, Brandt worked as a nurse practitioner.

In 1846, the educator Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps observed, “Females, in particular, are not expected to enter into the recesses of the temple of science.” As Phelps explained, “It is but of late that they have been encouraged to approach even its portals, and to venture a glance upon the mysteries therein.”i Although most education majors in my U.S. history classes are familiar with the early nineteenth-century educational reformer Horace Mann, few have heard of Phelps. Many students would be surprised by Dr.

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Black Girls in STEM
Abiola Farinde-Wu

Department of Leadership in Education, University of Massachusetts Boston

Abiola Farinde-Wu is an assistant professor of urban education in the Department of Leadership in Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she teaches doctoral students pursuing degrees in urban education. Her research interests are the educational experiences and outcomes of Black women and girls, diversifying the U.S. teacher workforce, and urban teacher education. In her scholarly work, she draws from critical theory frameworks. She has authored and co-authored numerous studies published in journals, including Urban Review, Teachers College Record, Urban Education, and Teaching and Teacher Education. In addition, she is the co-editor of Black Female Teachers: Diversifying the United States’ Teacher Workforce (Emerald, 2017).

At an academic conference on January 14, 2005, then Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers in his presentation to colleagues suggested that women may be innately less able to succeed in math and science careers. More recently, in 2017 Google fired a software engineer for disseminated harmful gender stereotypes through a lengthy internal memo. Both of these incidents and others that are less well known affirm that equity for women and diversity remain pressing issues within the STEM field.

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Insights from the Collections

The Consortium’s collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of education in science, technology, and medicine, as well as changes in gender politics over time.

Our cross-institutional search tool allows researchers to investigate materials across multiple institutions from a single interface. With more than 4.4 million catalog records of rare books and manuscripts, the Consortium’s search hub offers scholars and the public the ability to identify and locate relevant materials.

Search the Consortium search hub.

Some archival materials related to this topic include:

Nursing, a profession for college women, 1945, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Valedictory address to the graduating class of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, at the eighteenth annual commencement, March 12th, 1870, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
The Opening of the Johns Hopkins Medical School to Women, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Historical Files on women students, CalTech Archives
Report of Naples Table Association, Columbia University
"Noon" and "Two women working in the Optical Shop", Adler Planetarium
AIP Education and Manpower Division records, 1940-1973, American Institute of Physics
Proceedings of the second International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists, Cambridge, England, 1-9 July 1967, Linda Hall Library
Women in Medicine Collections, including the Black Women Physicians Project, Drexel University
The American lady’s preceptor: a compilation of observations, essays and poetical effusions designed to direct the female mind in a course of pleasing and instructive reading, Wagner Free Institute of Science
Chemistry in Home Economics notebook, 1942, Science History Institute
See also the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard University.
Related publications from our speakers:

Decoding Careers in DNA: Genetic Coding Lesson Brings Computational Biology and STEM Careers to Life
Development of liberatory pedagogy in teacher education: Voices of novice BLACK women teacher educators
Voices of Black Women as Directors of Informal STEM Programs
Surfacing Students' Prior Knowledge in Middle School Science Classrooms: Exception or the Rule?
Transformations in Schooling: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Kim Tolley; Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 
The Science Education of American Girls: A Historical Perspective, by Kim Tolley; Routledge, 2002.
Science for Ladies, Classics for Gentlemen: A Comparative Analysis of Scientific Subjects in the Curricula of Boys' and Girls' Secondary Schools in the United States, 1794-1850
See also recent work from our fellows:

A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Higher Education in Physics, Joanna Behrman
Cross-Atlantic Fertilizations: Women’s Horticultural Education at Ambler, Pennsylvania, Donald Opitz