Date of Completion


Embargo Period



women, science, gender, scientific practice, labor, early America

Major Advisor

Cornelia Hughes Dayton

Associate Advisor

Robert A. Gross

Associate Advisor

Walter W. Woodward

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


The Fruits of Their Labor: Women’s Scientific Practice in Early America, 1750-1860, aims to recover women’s scientific labor, as well as to restore their labor’s history to scholarly narratives through an examination of historical construction of women’s practices. The ways Americans discursively invoked “useful knowledge” and “practical applications” of science helped craft prescriptive notions of women’s scientific practice as an extension of everyday responsibilities as wives, mothers, and daughters. The project examines how this understanding of practice shaped pedagogy at female academies, and explores the shortcomings and potential consequences of the argument. Practical applications of science for women were initially circumscribed by domesticity, but educators expanded modes of practice by articulating what this dissertation refers to as “blended science,” an intentionally interdisciplinary mingling of knowledge designed to convey superior comprehension of science. Women mixed and juxtaposed poetry and art, among other disciplinary content, with scientific objects and writings.

As practitioners, women occupied and shaped scientific spaces. The project considers how women contributed to Philadelphia-area scientific institutions. Women attached themselves to museums and societies, often without receiving acknowledgment or membership offers. Including women formally was contingent upon men’s need for their labor and women’s desire to join; women were often offered limited tiers of access, discouraging them from paying fees that would enable the transition from informal to formal participant. This work also explores the production of color-plate books, examining women’s collaborative work as scientific artists on various seminal natural history texts of the nineteenth century. Rather than illustration and coloring being a rote activity consisting of copying an object, the production of scientific plates required sophisticated knowledge of both art and science, which, particularly after the advent of blended science, enabled women to contribute to the production of scientific texts. Finally, this work explores the creation of women’s plant collections, offering an expanded typology of herbaria that includes modes of women’s gendered expression. Reconstructing various processes used to generate and curate these manuscripts and collections illustrates the scientific knowledge women employed to make these objects. The blended style, among other factors, has obscured the scientific content of herbaria.

Available for download on Sunday, July 25, 2027