One of my favorite blogs is Letters of Note, in which proprietor Shaun Usher posts scans of original letters and contextualizes them within the cultural milieu of the time period. Last week, in honor of International Women's Day, Shaun posted a letter that the astronomer Carl Sagan sent to every member of The Explorers Club. What prompted Sagan to spend the time and money to mail a slew of letters? The Club's refusal to allow women to join... in 1981. Sagan points out the contributions that women have made to science, and he specifically cites five prominent female scientists by name, noting that:
Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints -- 3.6 million years old -- made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species. Jane Goodall's studies of the chimpanzee are the best known of the investigations which illuminate human origins. The undersea depth record is held by Sylvia Earle. The solar wind was first measured in situ by Marcia Neugebauer, using the Mariner 2 spacecraft. The first active volcanos beyond the Earth were discovered on the Jovian moon Io by Linda Morabito, using the Voyager 1 spacecraft. These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.
In light of the recent conversations going on at the American Anthropological Association (and in the blogosphere) about the place of science in anthropology and how anthropology needs a more public face, it was remarkable to see Sagan demonstrate the importance of women in science by citing the work of two amazing anthropologists.