Groundbreaking female scientists feature in new book produced by Middlesbrough Soroptimists

A NEW book featuring the stories of 32 groundbreaking female scientists has been produced by local members of a global volunteer movement.

Soroptimist International Middlesbrough (SI Middlesbrough) has published Overcoming the Odds. Motivated by the contribution of women to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) professions, the book hopes to inspire young girls and women to follow up interests in these fields. It provides real life examples of resolving challenges through courage, determination, and resourcefulness. Many of the featured scientists faced injustice and prejudice, yet their work prevails.

“I am pleased that we have been able to highlight the successes of women in science-based careers, and that many of them had considerable obstacles to overcome,” said Pam Cooper, secretary of SI Middlesbrough. “They are role models for girls and women who would like to aim high in their profession.”

The book celebrates the diverse range of skills and backgrounds of these women. Examples from the 19th Century include Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (the first qualified British physician and surgeon), Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole (pioneering public health work), Lillian Lindsay (the first qualified female dentist in Britain), and Dame Millicent Fawcett (mathematician and suffragist, believing in peaceful constitutional campaigns for women’s suffrage).

More recent subjects include Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan (three Afro American mathematicians working at NASA during the space race, as featured in the 2016 film Hidden Figures), German Chancellor (working as a research scientist when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989), and mathematician and musician Delia Derbyshire (who arranged the iconic theme tune to Dr Who working in the BBC Radiophonic workshop).

“It has been a joy to be part of this project and, in doing the research, learning more about the amazing women on whom we chose to focus,” said contributor Kath Sainsbury. “I was staggered to read about the opposition and regressive attitudes of some academics – and to realise that much of this was in my lifetime.”

The book has a local dimension too. Anne Press is a local botanist who helped with the development and operation of Nature’s World in Acklam (now sadly closed). Susan Black OBE, is a professor of computer science at Durham University and set up Techmums in 2011, and Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist, linguist, adventurer, and “Daughter of the Arabian Desert” who once lived at Red Barns in Redcar.

The achievements of each is referenced to the challenges of the present, with emphasis on . “We would like to think that ‘Overcoming the Odds’ has achieved its aim of linking the topic of remarkable women, our own lives, and the pandemic,” said Ms Sainsbury.

June Dalziel Almeida (daughter of a Glasgow bus driver) discovered the first Corona Virus in 1964 and was featured in the Guardian, Scotland section, on November 30. Professor Sarah Gilbert is the designer of the Oxford vaccine and has had much media focus lately. Devi Sridhar worked on the Ebola virus epidemic and served on the Scottish Covid19 Advisory Group. All are featured in Overcoming the Odds.

Work on the book began in February 2020 with volunteer members researching and creating the profiles. It was completed in October, with thanks to Christopher Woods as independent editor, and design and publishing company Two Faces Design.

Overcoming the Odds is available from cooperpageo21@aol.com or kath@saltburnarts.co.uk (£10). The Soroptimists began in California in 1921 and are now global volunteer movement, working hard to enrich and support the lives of women and girls through education and empowerment and creating strong peaceful communities worldwide. Soroptimists International Middlesbrough are always happy to welcome new members. See www.sigbi.org/Middlesbrough or contact cooperpageo21@aol.com, or the Soroptimists International Darlington and District for more information.

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