Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.
“Rachel Swaby’s no-nonsense and needed Headstrong dynamically profiles historically overlooked female visionaries in science, technology, engineering, and math.”—Elle
In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?
Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.
Journalist Swaby spotlights the accomplishments of 52 female scientists throughout history with pithy biographies organized by their areas of expertise. Inspired by the tone-deaf New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill, which honored the rocket scientist's beef stroganoff before her professional accomplishments, Swaby celebrates barrier-breaking titans such as Helen Taussig, the first female president of the American Heart Association; astronaut Sally Ride; and biochemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, who inspired the newspaper headline "Nobel Prize for British Wife." Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper receive praise for their contributions to computer programming, while Jeanne Villepreux-Power and Stephanie Kwolek are praised for inventing the aquarium and Kevlar, respectively. Swaby shows her subjects toiling in secret bedroom labs, damp basements, and janitor's closets as they faced gender-based discrimination: Mary Putnam Jacobi was admitted to France's cole de M decine on the condition she "maintain a buffer of empty seats around her at all times"; Rosalind Franklin had her research on DNA structure stolen by male colleagues; and milie du Chatelet frantically translated Newton's Principia into French before the birth of her fourth child. Jewish female scientists faced further adversity during WWII, with several forced to flee their homelands. Swaby has collected an inspirational master list of women in science with accessible explanations of their work.