A Chemical Passion

The forgotten story of chemistry at British independent girls' schools, 1820s–1930s

Paperback / softback, 276 pages, 234 mm x 156 mm
1 Feb 2017

Price: £26.99

Chemistry is traditionally thought to have been a masculine subject in secondary schools – one at which boys excelled and girls had limited interest. In this groundbreaking work Marelene and Geoff Rayner-Canham reveal that from the 1820s to the 1930s chemistry teaching flourished in girls’ independent schools in Britain. Working in well-equipped labs, generations of inspirational teachers imparted a lasting fascination for the subject in their pupils, many of whom became teachers or professional chemists themselves. For a variety of reasons that the authors investigate, this tradition tailed off before the Second World War, and a proud history was forgotten even in the schools where it had once flourished. The fruit of years of research in the archives of dozens of schools, the authors present a rich and multifaceted account that reveals the hidden history of a landmark achievement in the education of women.

  • Marelene Rayner-Canham

    Marelene Rayner-Canham was laboratory instructor in physics at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus, Newfoundland, and is now a researcher and author on the history of women in science.

  • Geoff Rayner-Canham

    Geoff Rayner-Canham is Professor of Chemistry at Memorial University's Grenfell Campus, Newfoundland.

CONTENTS: Preface and acknowledgements; Introduction; 1. The revolution in girls’ education, 1850–1910; 2. The earliest chemistry education for girls; 3. Chemistry and the two role-model girls’ schools; 4. Chemistry as a girls’ subject; 5. The pioneering women chemistry teachers; 6. Practical chemistry at girls’ schools; 7. Chemistry and school science clubs; 8. In their own words: Chemistry poetry and short stories; 9. Chemistry at some Welsh girls’ schools; 10. Chemistry at some Scottish girls’ schools; 11. What will the chemistry students do?; 12. The 1930s: The end of an era; References; Index

Already renowned as pioneers in the history of science education for women, the Rayner-Canhams have now produced a stimulating, in-depth account of chemistry teaching in girls’ schools between the middle of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Based on extraordinarily extensive archival research, this much-needed and informative analysis also offers a treasure-trove of lively, original quotations from students, teachers and school magazines.

Dr Patricia Fara, Clare College, Cambridge

The authors’ painstaking, but elegant, study of the archives of some 60 independent British girls’ schools reveals a forgotten world of dedicated women science teachers, enthusiastic pupils and well-equipped laboratories. With its profiles of large numbers of female teachers whose dedicated service made scientific careers for women possible, A Chemical Passion is a valuable work of reference as well as an absorbing narrative with captivating illustrations.

William H. Brock, Emeritus Professor of History of Science, University of Leicester

An innovative and important book. Drawing upon a range of resources the authors identify some early women teachers of chemistry and reveal the excitement and enthusiasm with which girls responded to their pioneering encounters with the subject. It adds a new and personal dimension to our understanding of the history of girls’ scientific education.

Edgar W. Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Science Education Policy, University of Leeds