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Q U I C K   L I N K S

For more on “Lady Owen, Doctor Owens wife,” who developed a popular treatment for breast cancer, and the entrepreneurial Hannah Wolley (17th-century precursor of Martha Stewart) who reprinted Lady Owen’s cancer treatment, see the sidebar for the webessay entitled “The New She-philosopher.​com: a Note on Site Design” (scroll down to the link for “In comparison, reading lots of close-set black letter these days feels effortless!”).
  This second-window aside opens with discussion of, and print samples from, the woman printer, Elizabeth Pickering Redman.

Margaret Cavendish is one of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players.” Learn more here.
  See also the In Brief topic on the politics of naming Margaret Cavendish.

Virginia Ferrar is one of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players.” Learn more here.

Mary Trye is one of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players.” Learn more here.

There are summary biographies of Susan Holder and Maria Sibylla Merian in the IN BRIEF section of She-philosopher.​com.

Two female archetypes influencing early-modern women who were active in the arts & sciences — such as Jane Barker, who compares herself to Semiramis in her poem, “On the Apothecary’s Filing my Bills amongst the Doctors” — are described in the IN BRIEF biographies of Hypatia and Semiramis.

Some of my new research about women’s role (as printers, publishers, booksellers, and authors) in the 17th-century scientific/technical book trade will be found in She-philosopher.​com’s greatly enlarged and revised Gallery Exhibit on “Women in the Print Trade” (forthcoming).

More of my research about women who were involved in the 17th-century scientific/technical book trade will be found in She-philosopher.​com’s new section on English printers’ ornaments, part of this website’s growing collection of materials on the history of print.

A digital edition of 2 poems honoring the printer’s trade (first published c.1608), by the eminent Latin poet, Elizabeth Jane Weston (1581?-1612), is available in the She-philosopher.​com Library: see Lib. Cat. No. WEST1608 (includes the Latin originals, and modern English translations).
  Weston’s “Latin Poem in praise of Typography” and of printing — “which is indeed the preserver of all other arts” — were acclaimed by such renowned authorities as Thomas Powell (1608?–1660) and John Evelyn (1620–1706).

My ongoing study of “The Countesse of Kents Pouder” recipe — Elizabeth Talbot Grey’s popular polychrest medication — is now available at She-philosopher.​com.

Several webessays at the subdomain known as Roses include details about British and Anglo-American women involved with the arts & sciences during the 17th century. See, for example, the editor’s introduction to Thomas Tryon’s The Planter’s Speech to his Neighbours & Country-Men of Pennsylvania, East & West-Jersey ... (1684). And for a brief discussion of the medical instrument-maker known as the Widow Pippin, see the editor’s introduction to the medical case study of 1684 describing a French woman’s noli me tangere (touch-me-not) — a deadly cancer affecting the nose, mouth and/or throat.

N O T E

There is additional material on women’s involvement with early-modern science, medicine & technology located elsewhere at She-philosopher.​com. The best way to find it is to use our customized search tool (search box at the top of the right-hand sidebar on this page), which is updated every time new content is added to the public areas of the website, thus ensuring the most comprehensive and reliable searches of She-philosopher.​com.


First Published:  April 2004
Revised (substantive):  4 September 2017

A–D | E–J | K–Q | R–Z |

List of women involved with early-modern science & technology

THIS IS A PROVISIONAL and incomplete list of names, compiled over the years from references I run across when doing research. Some of these references include proper names for the women described, but many do not. For example, from Adrian Wilson’s The Making of Man-Midwifery regarding the family of George Ballard:

... his mother was a midwife at Campden, Gloucestershire, and (as Thomas Hearne observed in 1730) his “ingenious sister, who is now 26 years of age, is ... designing to be a midwife by the assistance of her mother, who hath followed that employment many years.” George’s sister had wider interests as well, for she was “very curious in coins and physic,” and “reads very much in physic and history, and procures many of the best books that way”; surely it was her example that inspired George to produce 20 years later his celebration of female accomplishments, the Memoirs of several ladies of Great Britain.

(Wilson, 32)

Moreover, the emphasis on proper names means that I am unable to account for such anonymous figures as

pointerthe “herb-women” of Newgate Market and Covent Garden;

pointeror the “oldish woman in a hat” who “hath some water good for the eyes” and is known to have treated Samuel Pepys on occasion (in a diary entry for 30 April 1669, Pepys records that she “did dress me, making my eyes smart most horribly, and did give me a little glass of it, which I will use and hope it will do me good”);

pointeror the “good old Woman” empiric who made medicines for and tended the burns of coal miners working near the Mendip Hills in Somerset during the 1670s: “When any [miners] are burnt, the usual method they observe in their Cure is thus: They presently betake themselves to a good Fire, and sending for some Cows hot Milk, they first Bath the burnt places with that; when they have done this a while, they make use of an Oyntment proper for burnings, which the Masters of the Works have alwaies in a readiness for such chances, being furnish’d therewith at the cheap rate of twelve pence the pound by a good old Woman living near the Works; the use of this Oyntment is continued, the burnt places being alwaies kept moist with it till the burning heat quite ceases, and the Sores are fit to be heal’d, and then the said Woman furnishes them with some ordinary healing Plaisters for that use.” (Beaumont, “A Letter of Mr. J. Beaumont Containing His Observations of the Fiery Damps in Mines,” 1679, 7; see Lib. Cat. No. BEAU1679 for a complete transcription);

pointeror the “skilful Woman” who prescribed “the Powder of Nettle-roots in White Wine” with which “Nathaniel Mitchell of Loo in Cornwall, aged about 50” was treated for colic in 1691, as reported in a letter to the Royal Society written in 1707 by the pioneering English naval surgeon, James Yonge;

pointeror the “experienced old woman, that had been at many sick people’s bed-sides,” whose “advice” and “physique” (medicines) were sought by Thomas Hobbes (over 91 years of age when he died), preferring her clinical practice to that of “the learnedst but unexperienced physitian” (J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. by Andrew Clark, 2 vols., 1.350);

pointeror the “Lady of late, I have forgot her name,” described in 1673 by Bathsua Makin as having been “so well skilled in the Mathematicks, that she hath printed divers Tables” (B. Makin, An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues, 1673, 15);

pointeror the “little Irish girl, a mathematical prodigy” who was examined at meetings of the Dublin Philosophical Society in early 1685/6 and “bred up” by George Tollet, Professor of Mathematics in Dublin (Tollet was elected F.R.S. in 1678): “Mr. Lidcot of Dublin, a learned gentleman, has a daughter of eleven years of age that understands all arithmetic and algebra, trigonometry and the use of globes, and appears at the Royal Society there. They do not find anything extraordinary in her nature to mathematics, but do impute all to her early education. (From Mr. Molineaux in a letter to Mr. [Thomas] Harley, April 21, 1686.) Doctor Holder’s niece, 6 years old, going on 7, adds, subtracts, multiplies, divides and has some few definitions of geometry.” (J. Aubrey, Idea of Education, ed. by J. E. Stephens, 98–9);

pointeror the “gentlewoman called Everard, who was a very great chemist” according to John Evelyn, who dined with her in London at the house of Mr. Dubois on 5 July 1650;

pointeror the “women illuminators” employed by the great Antwerp printer, Christopher Plantin, to color by hand the botanical books which he produced (and botanical illustrations from the stock at the Plantin Press were used by Thomas Johnson for his revised, scholarly edition of Gerard’s Herball, co-printed at London in 1633 and 1636 by a woman, Joyce Norton).

Even when a proper name is known, it is often difficult to learn much about the real historical woman behind it, as is the case with Elizabeth Guard, from Norton in Sussex, who apprenticed with the pro-woman author and publisher, Nathaniel Crouch (c.1640–1725?) at London in 1674. Since Guard disappears from the historical record after that, we have “no evidence that she successfully completed her apprenticeship”; no understanding as to why she did or did not finish her training; and no further information as to why Crouch bound a woman as his apprentice in the first place.

In other cases, a name can predominate over the woman who bears it, as I found with the 16th-century “Lady Owen” whose innovative treatments for breast cancer were highly regarded by contemporaries. She was either the first (Lettice) or second (Mary) wife of the renowned court physician, Dr. George Owen (c.1499–1558), but I still don’t know which “Lady Owen, Doctor Owens wife” developed the recipe for chemotherapy published in Thomas Lupton’s best-selling A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts (1st edn., 1579).

For women seeking lasting fame, such as the “very ambitious” Margaret Cavendish (who desired nothing more than “to live by remembrance in after-ages”), any such confusion over wifely identities was a major concern. It was to forestall any mistakes over her own identity that Cavendish, then widely known as the countess of Newcastle, published her autobiography in 1656:

... I verily believe some censuring Readers will scornfully say, why hath this Ladie writ her own Life? since none cares to know whose daughter she was, or whose wife she is, or how she was bred, or what fortunes she had, or how she lived, or what humour or disposition she was of? I answer that it is true, that ’tis to no purpose, to the Readers, but it is to the Authoress, because I write it for my own sake, not theirs; neither did I intend this piece for to delight, but to divulge, not to please the fancy, but to tell the truth, lest after-Ages should mistake, in not knowing I was daughter to one Master Lucas of St. Johns neer Colchester in Essex, second Wife to the Lord Marquis of Newcastle, for my Lord having had two Wives, I might easily have been mistaken, especially if I should dye, and my Lord Marry again.

(M. Cavendish, “A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life,” in Natures Pictures Drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life, 1st edn., 1656, 390–1)

Confusion over mistaken identities is even more of an issue for historians researching women of the middling and lower classes, as are many of the women listed below. Most early-modern women lacked bureaucratic identities which fixed their names in print, and variable spellings even of recorded names were common for men and women alike. Thus we find the trade printer, Gertrude Dawson (fl. 1649–1660s), using six different imprints for the seven editions she printed of Elizabeth, Countess of Kent’s A Choice Manual of Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and Chyrurgery, and altering the form of her own name almost as often (G. D., G. Dawson, Gurt Dawson, Gartrude Dawson). Even the title-pages for two editions of A Physical Dictionary, both of which Dawson printed for the stationer John Garfield in 1657, use two different names in the imprint: G. D. and G. Dawson.

Facsimile of title-page for Gertrude Dawson's printing of _A Physical Dictionary_, 2nd edn., 1657 (e-copyright 2014).     Facsimile of title-page for Gertrude Dawson's printing of _A Physical Dictionary_, 1st edn., 1657 (e-copyright 2014).

Sorting through the frequent use of initials and variant names and spellings by 17th-century printers requires more than just a casual study, further complicating our ability to trace women’s early contributions to the scientific and technical book trade.

Even with its many omissions, the following list reveals a surprising diversity of interests, activities, and occupations for women involved with early-modern science and technology. The women listed range in social rank from queens to illiterate midwives, with participatory activities that run the gamut from accounting, alchemy, astrology, and astronomy to bookbinding, botany, calligraphy, cartography, chemistry and iatrochemistry, engineering, engraving, entomology, horticulture, illustration, instrument manufacture, marketing, mathematics, medicine, natural philosophy, patron of the arts & sciences, pharmacy, niche publication of scientific works, print selling & print publication, surgery, technical writing, and zoology.


ornament  List of Women: AD

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ornament  Women’s Names: EJ

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ornament  List of Women: KQ

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ornament  List of Women: RZ

^  Tail-piece from William Derham’s edn. of Philosophical Experiments and Observations of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hooke (1726). Derham dedicated this 2nd posthumously-published volume of Hooke’s miscellaneous papers and unpublished manuscripts to a woman, Juliana, dowager countess of Burlington (1672–1750), “for her Personal Virtues and Merits, as for her singular Favours to me.”
   Juliana passed on her love of the arts, especially music and Italian opera, to her son, Richard Boyle (1694–1753), third earl of Burlington and fourth earl of Cork, aka the “architect earl” for his significant contribution to British architecture.
   Like the dowager countess, Richard was a celebrated patron of the arts. His extensive library included “virtually all published editions of architectural treatises and texts, beginning with a mid-fifteenth-century incunabulum on vellum of Vitruvius’s Ten Books of Architecture,” and his art collection included “the single largest corpus of Palladio’s architectural drawings, including his reconstructions of the Roman baths and other Roman monuments.” (Kingsbury, n. pag.)

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