When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender

Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, Country House Science, and Personae for British Women in Science at the turn of the Twentieth Century





Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, Balfours of Whittingehame, Newnham College, scientific personae


Higher education for women in the fields of science and mathematics significantly expanded in the United Kingdom at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. A major force in that expansion was Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick (1845–1934), the mathematically talented head of Newnham College, Cambridge, and researcher in experimental physics at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. In this article I examine Sidgwick’s role in advancing science education for women, focusing on her construction of a scientific persona for British women that drew upon her evangelical Anglican values of family and domesticity. I argue that Sidgwick’s work contributed to an enterprise of ‘country house science’ in which other members of her extended family were engaged, and that her case contributes to a reorientation of the historiography from a focus on recovery of women’s peripheral contributions to the positioning of the work of science education for women more centrally in our narratives about women in science.

Author Biography

Donald L. Opitz, DePaul University

Donald L. Opitz is an historian of science whose research focuses on women, sexuality, and gender in science, especially in the context of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. His recent work analyses women’s scientific pursuits in agriculture and horticulture. He is an editor of the volumes, Domesticity in the Making of Modern Science (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and For Better or For Worse? Collaborative Couples in the Sciences (Birkhäuser, 2012). In progress is a forthcoming set of volumes, for which he serves as a general editor: Gender, Colonialism and Science: A Cross-Cultural Compendium of Primary Sources (Routledge). He is an Associate Professor in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at DePaul University.





When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender