Guiding Science

Publications by Women in the Romantic and Victorian Ages


Guiding Science: Publications by Women in the Romantic and Victorian Ages is an annotated bibliography of 200 women-authored science books for children and young readers from 1790-1890 which were published in Great Britain and the United States. Included in the bibliography are all editions of a title held at the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature at the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.


Support for this project was provided by a 2015 American Library Association Carnegie Whitney grant.



Guiding Science: Publications by Women during the Romantic and Victorian Ages


By Dr. Alan Rauch, University of North Carolina - Charlotte



The emergence of science as a popular subject in conversation for readers young and old is rarely explored in depth. Modern science and scientific knowledge flourished in the 19th century, but what did people actually know about sciences and how did they know it? The answers to these question are complex, but one thing is certain, the so-called rising generation of the 19th century gleaned most of its knowledge about animals, plants, geology, physics, and natural philosophy from books written by female authors.


Women at the time were excluded from practicing as scientists, and thus from demonstrably adding new knowledge to the world; still, they were deeply invested in making science comprehensible and available to readers. They wrote widely and prolifically, sometimes with an eye to revealing God in the natural world, and other times to highlight critical knowledge for an increasingly scientific and technical age. The object of their efforts was almost always summarized as “mental improvement.” While their readers included great scientists such as Michael Faraday and Charles Darwin, it is far more compelling to think of the thousands of other readers who helped shape the 19th century, each in their anonymous way.


Many of these women writers were themselves anonymous, known to us simply as Anon, A Lady, or by a set of initials accompanied by a gendered pronoun in a preface. Some authors, like Maria Hack, Catherine Louisa Beaufort, Mary Elliott, and Selina Bower, are either poorly known or entirely forgotten despite their impact on young readers. Others, such as Maria Edgeworth, Sarah Trimmer, Jane Marcet, and Priscilla Wakefield, while recognized as important literary figures, rarely receive credit for making science available and fascinating to everyone.


All of this simply underscores how overdue acknowledgement for the importance of women in the modern sciences still is, and how behind we still are in understanding science networks among women in the 19th century. There was a vast matrix of scientific writing for children, richly represented in the Baldwin Library, which we are only beginning to value as foundational. The purpose of this exhibit is not only to help unearth these remarkable works, but to assemble them in a way that celebrates their significance - the readers of these books were being schooled for England’s scientific and industrial revolution. We can, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking that male educators were responsible for this transformation, but that was simply not the case. It was women who transformed the natural order.


Questions and comments about this project may be submitted to the Libraries Web Team.