Georgiana Molloy: The mind that shines
Picador $39.99 pb, 336 pp, 9781743549148
By the end of the eighteenth-century, botany was one of the few sciences regarded as suitable for women. Carolus Linnaeus had infamously declared that his system of botanical taxonomy was so simple that even 'women themselves' could understand it. Botanical collection, identification, and cultivation extended the traditionally feminine occupations of flower arranging, gardening, and herbal lore, and were thought to bring order to the undisciplined female mind.
Women played vital roles in the popular communication of botany, in the education of the public, as collectors, cataloguers, and artists, but rarely as scientific authorities themselves. As botany and science became increasingly professionalised during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, our definition of science narrowed to focus on those scientific authors who, by virtue of their exclusive and tightly restricted access to formal education, employment, and membership of academic societies, were almost entirely male.