Pursuit & Persistence: 300 Years of Women in Science

March 31 – December 30, 2023
104 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Pursuit & Persistence: 300 Years of Women in Science, a new exhibition at the American Philosophical Society's Library & Museum, explores how women scientists have overcome obstacles to achieve breakthroughs, make places for themselves in science, and help others along the way.

The exhibition invites visitors to meet women whose boundless curiosity impelled them to investigate the mysteries of the universe, from the stars glittering in the night sky down to the inner workings of cells in our bodies and the structures of the atoms that make up all matter. 

In pursuit of this knowledge, women scientists encountered many formidable roadblocks: unequal access to higher education; discrimination in hiring, pay, and promotions; lack of support for raising families; and denied or delayed recognition of their contributions. Their persistence in breaking down these barriers highlights their courage and demonstrates the importance of collaboration, mentoring, and networking.  

Focusing on the physical and biological sciences the exhibition begins in Europe in the 18th century, then moves to the United States to tell the stories of women in science during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Nine scientists are featured: Maria Sibylla Merian, German naturalist and artist; Émilie du Châtelet, French mathematician; Laura Bassi, Italian physicist; and Americans Emma Seiler, physiologist and musician; Maria Mitchell, astronomer; Florence Rena Sabin, medical researcher; Barbara McClintock, geneticist; Rose Mooney-Slater, crystallographer and physicist; and Mildred Cohn, biochemist. Additional women in the exhibition include naturalist and artist Lucy Say, nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, and science teacher Jeannine Duane, among others. 

Dozens of documents, publications, and artifacts from the APS’s extensive collections and private lenders—most never exhibited before—illuminate the groundbreaking scientific research and sometimes bumpy career trajectories of these remarkable women. Throughout the exhibition, contemporary artworks by Rebecca Kamen interpret the scientists’ discoveries in visual form and celebrate their achievements.