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Minerva's French SistersWomen of Science in Enlightenment France$
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Nina Rattner Gelbart

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780300252569

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300252569.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM YALE SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.yale.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Yale University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in YSO for personal use.date: 26 November 2021



A Sextet of Firsts, Variations on a Theme

(p.1) Introduction
Minerva's French Sisters

Nina Rattner Gelbart

Yale University Press

This chapter begins with introducing the subject of the book: the six intrepid females who daringly chose to do science, to expand our knowledge of the natural world in diverse disciplines. It also introduces some “extraordinary women” of science, and Newtonian physicist Mme Du Châtelet who was overlooked for two centuries. As Voltaire's mistress, Mme Du Châtelet was mentioned by historians solely in that capacity, but her own intellectual prowess was not discussed, and surely not celebrated. The chapter discusses the six women in this book, scientific peers of hers, who were relegated to the shadows and are only slowly emerging into the light. The chapter revives the stories of these women, seeking their traces in the archives, finding what contemporaries said about them, and bit by bit uncovering information that had been dropped from the triumphalist narratives of science composed by men in charge. It emphasizes their differences as well, for they were an eclectic mix, representing a wide range, an assortment of approaches to their scientific goals. Ultimately, the chapter outlines the hybrid format and structure of the book, combining the age-old yet newly relevant genre of scientific biography with more personal elements.

Keywords:   science, females, Mme Du Châtelet, Elisabeth Ferrand, Nicole Reine Lepaute, Jeanne Barret, Madeleine Françoise Basseporte, Marie-Marguerite Biheron, Geneviève d'Arconville

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