Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Creating Complicated Lives

Creating Complicated Lives: Women and Science at English-Canadian Universities, 1880-1980

Marelene Rayner-Canham
Geoff Rayner-Canham
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Creating Complicated Lives
    Book Description:

    Why have Canadian women scientists been written out of the historical record? Who were they? What did they accomplish? What were their life paths? These are some of the questions answered in this authoritative work. Over decades of research, Marianne Ainley identified, tracked down, and interviewed surviving scientists. Creating Complicated Lives weaves the lives and work of these pioneers with the author's own experiences as an immigrant scientific technician and later a feminist historian. Ainley argues that we must look at the lives of women scientists through a new historical lens that takes into account both the advances of science and concurrent debates about the advancement of women. Rather than having linear career trajectories, many women shifted fields, coped with discrimination, and endeavoured to find niches in which they could make significant contributions. Never before has there been a survey of the lives and work of early Canadian women scientists. This nuanced study brings their stories to light, comparing, contrasting, and interpreting their very complicated lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8795-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    Alison Prentice

    Marianne Ainley’s Creating Complicated Lives is a brilliant exploration of the lives of Canadian women working in the sciences. Drawing on university archival records, oral histories, and both Canadian and international research literature, her study argues that these lives need to be understood in two primary contexts: the more general history of science and higher education; and Canadian gender and women’s history, in the years between 1880 and 1980.

    As science professionalized during this period, employment in the field became stratified and hierarchical. For women, who were gradually moving into both higher education and professional employment, this provided opportunities to...

  5. INTRODUCTION: Shifting Lenses
    (pp. 3-8)

    During the past decades, an increasing number of historical studies rediscovered women’s contributions to science. This was a major departure from conventional studies of science, where scientists, sociologists, and male historians highlighted and praised men’s heroic work and unparalleled discoveries.¹ Robert Merton proposed the term “Matthew effect” for those individuals lost from narratives on the history of science.² Margaret Rossiter responded that the elimination of women from accounts of science is a far more fundamental problem and suggested the “Matilda effect”³ vis-à-vis women.

    Rossiter eloquently makes the case for the Matilda effect:

    Recent work has brought to light so many...

  6. 1 A Complicated Life: My Journey to Feminist Enlightenment
    (pp. 9-44)

    Women’s contribution to, and lives in, science have long constituted an overlooked dimension in the history of Canadian science. I first recognized this reality in the early 1980s. I was a middle-aged graduate student, as well as a wife, mother, and environmental activist. I was also a former “invisible” chemist who knew from first-hand experience that women worked in science in academic, industrial, and medical settings. I saw them, talked to them, and observed them in these institutions. I was one of them. Women did most of the routine work in the laboratories where I had been employed.

    Many of...

  7. 2 New Horizons: Women and Science in Academe, 1880–1920
    (pp. 45-61)

    1984 was a year for celebrating the centenary of women both at McGill University and at the University of Toronto. I participated in events organized by the Women’s Centennial Committee of McGill University. I enjoyed listening to panellists and speakers such as politicians Monique Begin and Lynn MacDonald and to Margaret Gillett of McGill’s Faculty of Education.

    From Gillett’s book, We Walked Very Warily: A History of Women at McGill, I had already learned that the physicist Harriet Brooks Pitcher earned an MA there in 1901 under the direction of Ernest Rutherford (Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1908) and...

  8. 3 Academic Realities of Single Women, 1920—1980
    (pp. 62-89)

    It is surprising to discover the variety of research and teaching demands placed on faculty members by different universities. Indeed, what we considered crucial for academic advancement in 2000 was not a uniform requirement a century or even half a century earlier. The information that I had collected from biographical sources, university archives, and discussions with numerous scientists served as constant reminders to me to look at the realities rather than at the ideals of academic lives.

    By the early twentieth century, many North American academic scientists planned to combine teaching with research. The complex fabric of therir professional lives...

  9. 4 Complicated Lives I: Family Life and Science, 1920–1950
    (pp. 90-126)

    Life was certainly not stable in Western societies during the twentieth century. Two world wars, a major economic Depression, revolutions, widespread suffrage and better educational opportunities for women, and increased reliance on science and technology were among many factors that led to many new life-paths different from those of previous generations. We know that women, by breaking out of the traditional gender roles of wife, mother, homemaker, and caregiver, inevitably complicated their own lives.

    The complexity of women’s lives has been explored by a number of twentieth-century authors, but fictional and non-fictional accounts have treated them in different ways. Fictionalized...

  10. 5 Complicated Lives II: Family Life and Science after 1950
    (pp. 127-164)

    This chapter deals with three main groups of women scientists in the period since 1950: in/visible assistants – the people behind the scenes who make so much of science possible; mobile academics, from other parts of the world; and women, a number of them from other countries, who found various ways to combine university and family life.

    There is a long history of wives and daughters serving as “invisible” assistants to male members of their family.³ In twentieth-century Canada, many married women who could not, for a variety of reasons, find positions of their own helped their husbands in different ways,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-184)
    (pp. 185-192)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 193-200)