School of Education

Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education

It Was ‘Chemistry for Girls’!

Date: 5 April 2017, 13:00-14:00

Marlene Rayner-Canham and Professor Geoff Rayner-Canham, Memorial University of  Newfoundland

Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham have long been active researchers in the field of the history of women in science.  Apart from many academic papers on different topics, they have co-authored the books: Harriet Brooks – Pioneer Nuclear Scientist; A Devotion to Their Science: Pioneer Women of Radioactivity; Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century; Chemistry was Their Life: Pioneering British Women Chemists, 1880-1949; and now A Passion for Chemistry: Chemistry at British Independent Girls’ Schools, 1820s-1930s.

New Book: Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham have just had their latest publication: a book on chemistry at British Independent Girls’ Schools, 1820s-1930s.  Here is the link to the Amazon site and the shipping is actually a few days:


It was a ‘known fact’ that little chemistry was taught in British girls’ schools until the 1950s.  The Rayner-Canhams’ research has completely overturned this view.  Chemistry was taught to girls as early as the 1820s.  In the Victorian era, while the boys were taught Latin and Greek, the progressive independent girls’ schools embraced chemistry.  The girls were enthusiastic about the subject: they revelled in the lab work (including periodic explosions and fires); they went on ‘thrilling’ (hazardous) expeditions to industrial chemical plants; and they wrote short stories and poetic verse about their chemistry experiences. In this overview of their research, the Rayner-Canhams will describe how they stumbled across this forgotten era of ‘chemistry for girls’, summarise some of the reasons why it happened, and suggest why it came to an end.

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