Hooray for Lady Neuroscientists!

I’ve begun work on my next historical scientific romance, with another neuroscientist hero but starring a physicist heroine this time. It’s a reunited lovers story, complete with flashbacks–a first for me.

So, I’ve been reading a lot about physics and neuroscience research from 1906. And since my heroine is a physicist, I’ve been reading about the lives of woman physicists working at the time. For all that they are underrepresented, it is rather easy to find historical examples of women physicists. There’s Madame Curie and Lise Meitner to name two of the more famous ones and there are many, many more less famous ones. (And many of these women were married to male physicists–even then, scientists tended to intermarry!)

But finding examples of female historical neuroscientists is much harder. Part of the problem is the relative youth of neuroscience as a field–just a little over a century old. The only historical example of a female neuroscientist I could think of was Rita Levi-Montalcini, who did some of her pioneering work on nerve growth from her bedroom laboratory–while also fleeing fascism in Italy.

But as I’ve said, I’ve been doing some reading on historical experiments, specifically Charles Sherrington’s work on neural inhibition. And as I was reading, I came across this:

…an index of sciatic nerve-conduction, Miss Sowton and myself found…

Wait, Miss Sowton?! I’d never heard of a female neuroscientist named Sowton. I did some digging on the internet, but all I could really find out were her scientific papers–nothing at all biographical. (If you’re interested, her papers can be found here.)

All I really now is that her name was S.C.M. Sowton (first names weren’t usually listed in scientific articles of the time) and as best I can guess, she was a research assistant. Which doesn’t mean much, since many female scientists of the time were only hired on as assistants, no matter their skill level. She also co-authored a paper on the menstrual cycle, but I haven’t found that online yet. 🙂

So, there was a lady neuroscientist working in the early 1900s. I only know her last name, but I can still read her papers. I suppose, for a scientist, having someone still able to read your work after a century is quite an achievement. So I won’t mourn what I can’t discover about her, but celebrate that I could discover that she even existed at all.

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