Tuesday, 30 August 2011

15 of the First Female Professors in History

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August 29th, 2011
There are more female professors today than there ever have been at any point in history, but academia still remains a man’s world — especially in majors like philosophy, engineering and computer science, where female professors are few and far between. While there is undeniably room for improvement, that shouldn’t overshadow the amazing achievements of women who fought a long, hard battle to win a place in the hallowed halls of colleges and universities around the world. Here are some amazing women from history — who today’s professors can thank for paving the way — who earned a professorship job despite a wide range of gender-based obstacles and prejudices against them.
  1. Arria (2nd-3rd century AD)

    Not a lot is known about Arria, and much of what is comes through the writings of Galen, a Greek physician and philosopher who greatly admired her. Arria is said to have been a philosophy professor (and possibly also taught mathematics and astronomy), and was likely very similar to Hypatia in her beliefs and teaching methods. Whoever she was, she must have been doing something right, as Diogenes dedicated his text Lives of the Philosophers to her.
  2. Hypatia (400 AD)

    Daughter of Theon of Alexandria, a mathematics professor and librarian at the Library of Alexandria, Hypatia was familiar with the academic world from a very early age. As she grew up, she would become a renowned scholar in her own right and eventually became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, teaching mathematics, philosophy and astronomy. She was such an important scholar that some historians even claim her death (murder at the hands of a mob of monks) marked the beginning of the end for Classical thought.
  3. Trotula de Salerno (11th century AD)

    The Dark Ages weren’t all bad. In fact, some women actually managed to become respected scholars, most notably Trotula of Salerno. She was instrumental in helping revive interest in Ancient Greek science during the medieval period, and she and her "ladies of Salerno" were renowned throughout Italy for their medical expertise and scholarship. Working at the School of Salerno, Trotula taught both male and female students and wrote medical texts like The Diseases of Women, which were used well into the 16th century.
  4. Laura Bassi (1731)

    In modern times, Laura Bassi holds the honor of being the first female professor. A physicist, she was one of the first women to receive a university degree from the University of Bologna (and Europe in general). While there are no archives of her scientific work, she was well-respected among the literati of the time, including Voltaire, Paolo Frisi and Alessandro Volta. In 1731, Bassi would be appointed professor of Anatomy and in 1733 was given the chair of philosophy. While her teaching opportunities were limited in her career’s early years, over time she successfully petitioned the university for more responsibilities and lectures, which she balanced while caring for her eight children. By age 65, she was the chair of experimental physics at the Institute of Sciences, an impressive feat at any point in history — but especially so in the 1700s.Continued

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