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Overlooked No More: Elizabeth Wagner Reed, Who Resurrected Legacies of Women in Science

ByTeam BB

Apr 22, 2023

Reed also supported teaching children about science so that they would have the tools to solve what she called the “current crises of exploding populations and deteriorating environments.” She published papers about teaching proper scientific methods in schools and created curriculums with the University of Minnesota.

“Classrooms always house some living organisms,” she wrote, tongue-in-cheek, in the Journal of the Minnesota Academy of Science in 1969. “In many, unfortunately, all are of a single species, Homo sapiens. The population consists of many immature species (children) and a few adults, usually female (teachers). This makes for a certain homogeneity, but it can be alleviated by introduction of other living species, animal or plant.”

The fact that Reed was, like so many of her predecessors, lost to history is indicative of the pervasive sexism of her era. But women today continue to face hurdles in entering scientific fields. A report from the Massachusetts Institute Technology this year found that “the underrepresentation of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields continues to persist,” with women making up only 28 percent of the STEM work force.

Like Reed, her daughter, Catherine, was a scientist, having earned a Ph.D. in ecology, but she ultimately became so disillusioned that she held a ceremonial burning of her degree and instead turned to artwork and championing her mother’s legacy. She published her mother’s book on American women in science on her website in about 2010. She died in 2021 at 73.

Elizabeth Wagner Reed died at 83 on July 14, 1996, most likely of cancer. She recognized her symptoms, but, knowing what the treatments would be like and, to her mid, the probable outcome, she never sought a diagnosis. (Sheldon Reed died in 2003.)

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