Cover image for American women of letters and the nineteenth-century sciences : styles of affiliation
American women of letters and the nineteenth-century sciences : styles of affiliation
Baym, Nina.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 265 pages ; 24 cm
Print and women's scientific affiliations -- Almira Phelps and the discipline of botany -- Sarah Hale and the circulation of science -- Catharine Esther Beecher and the sciences of home -- Susan Fenimore Cooper and ladies' science -- Elizabeth Cary Agassiz and heroic science -- Testing scientific limits: Emma Willard and Maria Mitchell -- Emily Dickinson and scientific skepticism -- The sciences in women's novels -- Women of letters and medical science -- Spiritual science.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS217.S34 B39 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



During the nineteenth century, the content and institutional organization of the sciences evolved dramatically, altering the public's understanding of knowledge. As science grew in importance, many women of letters tried to incorporate it into a female worldview. In her new book, Nina Baym explores the responses to science displayed in a range of writings by American women. Conceding that they could not become scientists, women insisted, however, that they were capable of understanding science and participating in its discourse. They used their access to publishing to advocate the study and transmission of scientific information to the general public. Baym's book includes biographies and a full exploration of these women's works. Among those considered are: * Almira Phelps, author of Familiar Lectures on Botany (it sold 350,000 copies) * Sarah Hale, who filled Godey's Lady's Book with science articles * Catharine Esther Beecher, who based her domestic advice on scientific information * Susan Fenimore Cooper, who promoted scientific literacy as necessary for living a civilized life * Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the actual ghostwriter of her husband's popular science essays, and * Emily

Author Notes

Nina Baym was born Nina Zippin in Princeton, New Jersey on June 14, 1936. She received a bachelor's degree from Cornell University, a master's degree from Radcliffe College, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She joined the faculty of the University of Illinois-Champaign in 1963 and taught English there until her retirement in 2004. She wrote several books including Shape of Hawthorne's Career; The Scarlet Letter: A Reading; Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and About Women in America, 1820-1870; Women Writers of the American West, 1832-1927; and Feminism and American Literary History. She also served as general editor of several editions of The Norton Anthology of American Literature. She died from complications of dementia on June 15, 2018 at the age of 82.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The most recent work by one of the most prominent scholars of women's contributions to American culture, this companion to the author's outstanding American Women Writers and the Work of History, 1790-1860 (CH, Oct'95) is an innovative study of "how and why the sciences were made available to women by women." After providing an overview of how the study of botany, astronomy, biology, and chemistry gained prominence during the 19th century, Baym (Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) discusses the contributions of individual women in disseminating information about these fields to the reading public. This is an engaging narrative about "a small but assertive and influential group of nineteenth century women of letters [who] used their access to print to argue energetically that women ought to know the sciences." For instance, Sarah Hale used her position as editor of Godey's Lady's Book to teach readers about the steam engine, the microscope, and advances in chemistry. And although Emily Dickinson did not write for publication, Baym includes her because "the rich scientific texture of her poetry invites scrutiny." This is an important volume for libraries supporting work in women's studies and the history of science at all levels. J. S. Gabin University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill