We can’t forget women’s achievements in science

Monday, March 05, 2018

I applauded the Recorder on its choices for the front page of its Presidents’ Day edition on Feb. 19. Not one, but two articles on youth and the history of science were cover stories — “Did dinosaurs have feathers?” and “Greenfield High School puts Galileo Galilei on trial.” Bravo for highlighting these creative efforts to make science accessible to children and youth.

Of course, I am very grateful for the extra “above the fold” attention afforded to the article on the Discovery Center’s hosting of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s “Reading the Rocky Book of the Past; Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley” family activities.

There was one omission, though, in the otherwise excellent article by David McLellan on the dinosaur tracks event: only the men of the story of the discovery of dinosaur tracks, Dexter Marsh and Edward Hitchcock, were mentioned. Inadvertently left out was the leading lady of our story.

On hand for Saturday’s event was a costumed re-enactor playing Orra White — who became Edward Hitchcock’s wife after teaching with him at Deerfield Academy in the early 1800s.

White was a scientist in her own right — a botanist — and was also an illustrator of her husband’s ideas and discoveries. Professor Hitchcock always gave full credit to White for bringing his ideas to life with her illustrations for use in the lecture hall and in his books.

We believe she is the first women illustrator in America to have a credit line in a scientific publication (albeit in that century her byline had to be “Mrs. Hitchcock”).

Our re-enactor led visitors of all ages through exercises in close observation and trying their hand at botanical illustration. White played a central role in the dinosaur track story. It is important for girls and young women to be inspired by the contributions of women to science, especially in the days when the social norms of their times made it difficult.

A new website, dinotracksdiscovery.org, expands upon the dinosaur tracks discovery and the science behind them. A related exhibit, “Astronomy, Geology and Dino Tracks! Oh my!” at PVMA’s museum Memorial Hall in Old Deerfield will reopen May 6, with special hands-on programs for families as part of ArtWeek Massachusetts.

Tim Neumann

Executive director of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association