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Groundbreaking Women of Science Celebrated

  • Grave of acclaimed biologist Rosalind Franklin given listed status
  • Historic England and The Royal Society celebrate International Women’s Day by bringing to light the exceptional achievements of female scientists
  • Public asked to share achievements of women in science on the National Heritage List for England

Newly listed to mark International Women’s Day is Rosalind Franklin's grave in Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery, London.

Franklin’s X-ray observation of DNA contributed to the discovery of its helical structure by Crick and Watson in 1953. Her tomb commemorates the life and achievements of a scientist of exceptional distinction, whose pioneering work helped lay the foundations of molecular biology. Her early death, aged 37, was a great loss to science. The recently-opened Francis Crick institute in London commemorates Crick’s role in this major contribution to science.

Rosalind Franklin, 1950-1959
Rosalind Franklin, 1950-1959 © Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives and Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology NY, USA via Wellcome Library License: CC-BY-NC

Historic England has also teamed up with The Royal Society to celebrate and record the contributions female scientists have made to the world, in time for International Women's Day.

Royal Society Fellows have put forward 28 remarkable individuals, each personally championing the achievements of ground breaking female chemist, biologist, physicist or astronomer from past generations.

From the first woman ever to be paid for her contribution to astronomy; to a Victorian botanical illustrator who worked from a remote hut in the Brazilian rainforest for a year; to the woman responsible for helping a nation through the Second World War with food rationing; the places where these scientists lived and carried out their work are being uncovered through the collaboration. Their hidden stories are being added to the National Heritage List by fellows of The Royal Society.

We are calling on members of the public to follow their lead and bring more inspirational scientific stories to light by sharing what you know and adding it to the National Heritage List.

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics with Otto Hahn
Lise Meitner (1878-1968) an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics with Otto Hahn © Master and Fellows of Churchill College, Cambridge

Tracey Crouch, Heritage Minister, said: “The important role women have played in the field of British science is too often forgotten. This excellent project by Historic England and The Royal Society recognises the varied and notable contributions they made and will help raise awareness of these pioneering women scientists."

 

Debbie Mays, Head of Listing at Historic England, said: “While many great men of science have memorials, statues, libraries, and scholarships to remember them by, in most cases we only have the buildings that silently witnessed these women's achievements to connect us to them. Our aim is not only to bring these incredible achievements to light to a wider audience, but demonstrate to girls today that while women have been achieving in science and engineering for centuries, their stories were simply less widely told.”

 

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “The Royal Society is pleased to be working with Historic England this International Women’s Day to shine a spotlight on the homes and locations of work for these women who have made distinguished contributions to science. In particular, I am pleased to support the entries for Dorothy Hodgkin and Elsie Widdowson, scientists who were both Fellows of the Royal Society who made major contributions to chemical structure and to human nutrition respectively.”

From archaeobotanists and zooarchaeologists to scientific dating specialists, marine experts and our conservation team, Historic England employs many exceptional female scientists who are at the forefront of their sector. We want to encourage a new generation of women in science by demonstrating the important work they do.

Explore their stories

We've mapped the 28 women and places associated with them so you can explore the full story.

Explore the Women of Science map

  • Lise Meitner (1878-1968) an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics with Otto Hahn. She is buried at St James parish church in Hampshire
  • Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) the first computer programmer. She is buried at St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire
  • Mary Anning (1799 – 1847) an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist who became known around the world for important Jurassic marine fossil finds she made at Lyme Regis. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Michael's, Lyme Regis, Dorset
  • Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) a British biochemist who developed protein crystallography, a way of understanding the atomic and molecular structure of crystals, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964. She read Chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford
  • Better known for her stories for children, Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was fascinated by natural science and publically challenged an established theory on fungi. She lived at Hill Top Farm, Cumbria from 1905
  • Anne McLaren (1927 – 2007) a leading figure in developmental biology. Her work helped lead to human in vitro fertilisation. Ann read Zoology at Oxford and in July 2016, Kellogg College renamed its student halls of residence after her
  • Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901) born in Sedbury Park, Gloucestershire. The biographical subject of “Miss Ormerod” a short story by Virginia Woolf, and lectured at Royal Agricultural College for several years and carried out experiments on herself
  • Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German astronomer who came to live with her brothers in Bath when she was 22.  She is thought to be the first woman to be paid for her contribution to astronomy. She worked alongside her brother Sir William Herschel, from their house in Bath.
  • Mary Somerville (1780 –1872) was a Scottish science writer and polymath. She studied mathematics and astronomy, and was nominated to be jointly the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society at the same time as Caroline Herschel. When she died in 1872, Mary Somerville was hailed by The London Post as 'The Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science'
  • Marianne North (1830-1890) was born in Hastings and dedicated her life to recording plants and flowers around the world. Her skill in botanical drawing, before the advent of photography, meant her work helped to further our knowledge of plant life. A picture gallery at Kew Gardens was purpose-built  to house the collection of 848 of her flower paintings
  • Maggie Aderin-Pocock (born 1968), is a space scientist and science educator. She inspires new generations in the wonders of space and founded “Tours of the Universe”, a scheme set up to engage school children and adults. She went to La Sainte Union Catholic School, in Camden, North London
  • Anna Atkins (1789 – 1871) was a botanist and photographer, born and raised at Ferox Hall in Kent. Her work on photograms of plants appeared in one of the first publications to record and present specimens in this way and so established photography as an accurate medium for scientific illustration
  • Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) was a physician, suffragette, and the first English woman to qualify as a doctor. In 1872 she founded the New Hospital for Women in London, staffed entirely by women and later renamed Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital
  • Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910) was an icon of the Victorian age. She was instrumental in giving nursing a professional reputation and establishing nursing roles for women. 'The Florence Nightingale Appeal' helped to fund the building of a new hospital in Lisson Grove, the main site of today's 'Florence Nightingale Hospitals' Group and the present Lisson Grove Hospital, built in 1909.
  • Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) was an engineer, mathematician, physicist and inventor. While living at 41 Norfolk Square, London, she invented a device used in trench warfare for dispelling poisonous gases
  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born 1943) is an astrophysicist credited with discovering radio pulsars, one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. Bell Burnell was president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002 to 2004 and president of the Institute of Physics from 2008 to 2010
  • Constance Tipper (1894 – 1995) was one of the first women to take the Natural Sciences Tripos, the framework within which most of the sciences are taught in Cambridge, in 1915. The full implication of her work was not realised until the 1950s but after that, the “Tipper test” became the standard method for determining a form of brittleness in ships. Newnham College marked her 100th birthday with the planting of a sweet chestnut in the grounds, known as the ‘Tipper Tree’
  • Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958) was a paleobotanist, a person that studies fossilised plants, and taught fossil botany in the Beyer Building at the University of Manchester from 1904 to 1907.  She was the first female Lecturer in the Faculty of Science at the University and in 1905 became Britain’s youngest Doctor of Science
  • Elizabeth Blackwell (1707 – 1758) was a Scottish botanical illustrator and author who was best known as both the artist and engraver for the plates of "A Curious Herbal", published between 1737 and 1739. Blackwell was untrained in botany but visited the Chelsea Physic Garden to inform her illustrations, where many of these new plants were under cultivation
  • The Armitt Sisters - Mary Louisa Armitt (1851 – 1911) was a polymath. She studied musicology, ornithology and social history.  Annie Armitt (1850 – 1933) was a botanical illustrator, their oldest sister Sophia (1847 – 1908) was a botanist. They were gifted and well educated and set up a school in Eccles with Sophia becoming headteacher. In 1886 they retired to the Lake District, where they moved in intellectual circles. Mary died at Rydal Cottages, and after her death, The Armitt Library was founded on her bequest in order that the intellectual activity of Ambleside could be celebrated
  • Mary Edwards (1750 – 1815) was the first female “human computer” at Greenwich
  • Annie Russell Maunder (1868 – 1947) was a Northern Irish astronomer, specialising in solar activity. She worked at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich as one of the first 'lady computers' employed in the early 1890s
  • Dame Miriam Rothschild (1908 – 2005) was a zoologist, naturalist, academic and eccentric who was the “Queen Bee “of research into parasites and their hosts. She grew up on the Ashton Wold Estate and was the first person to work out the flea's jumping mechanism. Because of her inherited wealth, she didn’t have to apply for grant funding and had no formal education. Her doctorates were always honorary and as such she was considered an amateur
  • Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) was an  x-ray crystallographer and the first of two women elected Fellows of the Royal Society in 1945, along with Marjory Stephenson. She worked at the Royal Institution immediately after she was elected to the Royal Society
  • Marjory Stephenson (1885-1948) was a biochemist and, along with Kathleen Lonsdale, was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Society in 1945. Stephenson read Natural Sciences at Newnham College, Cambridge; Newnham College had its own chemistry laboratory and women attended biology practicals in the Balfour Laboratory
  • Mary Buckland (1797 - 1857) was a British palaeontologist, marine biologist and scientific illustrator. Mary had a vast collection of fossils and other specimens and taught in a village school in Islip, near the family's country home
  • Elsie Widdowson (1906 – 2000) was a British dietician. She and Dr Robert McCance were responsible for overseeing the government-mandated addition of vitamins to food and wartime rationing during the Second World War. She studied chemistry at Imperial College London, becoming one of the first women graduates at Imperial
  • Sarah Stone (1760–1844) was an English natural history illustrator and painter. Her works included many studies of specimens brought back from expeditions to England from Australia and the Pacific. Her illustrations are the first studies of many species so make them highly significant in the world of science. She exhibited as an honorary exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts in the 1780s

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