The Russian Julia Lermontova, who would end up being the first doctor in chemistry in history, had to leave Russia in order to study a scientific career. She landed in Berlin where, despite being recognized as a brilliant scientist, she was not allowed to attend class or work in laboratories because she was a woman. He studied privately and was finally able to defend his doctoral thesis.
Trinidad Arroyo Villaverde (1872-1959) from Palencia was not allowed by the rector of Valladolid to enroll to study medicine in 1888, despite being allowed by law. After appealing his father to the courts, he succeeded, and ended up obtaining a doctorate in Madrid in 1896.
Latvian Lina Stern had to emigrate to Switzerland to pursue university studies due to her status as a Jew. In 1939 he entered the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; she was the first woman to do it. Thanks to his work thousands of Soviet fighters’ lives were saved in World War II. Her Jewish origin did not stop representing a great obstacle for her; she was imprisoned for three years and tortured on several occasions. She managed to survive and, after being exiled to Siberia, and, later, to return to Moscow, she continued her scientific activity.
Romanian Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu had to leave her country and go to Germany to study engineering. She managed, not without difficulty, to be accepted at the Technical University of Berlin. In 1912 she graduated with honors, being named by the dean as “the most diligent of the diligent.” She was one of the first recognized female engineers in history.
June Almeida (1930-2007), the scientist who stars in the story captured in the video we publish today, ended up making significant contributions to scientific knowledge, despite the difficulties she had to overcome.
We have chosen her biography for reasons that will be evident after meeting her, but Almeida, along with Lermontova, Arroyo Villaverde, Stern, or Zamfirescu, are just some of the women who have stood out as scientists despite the obstacles they faced and who exceeded.
The video that follows these lines is a tribute to the women mentioned here and many others – whose lives can be learned in Scientific Lives (in English) and in Emakumeak Zientzian (in Basque) – who have made relevant contributions to scientific knowledge of Humanity. They are, for that reason, inspiring figures for those who consider the possibility of dedicating themselves professionally to science or, even, have already started that path.
The access of women to a scientific career is, among us, increasingly comparable to that of men (not so to engineering), although it is still more difficult for women in many countries. But while there are fewer and fewer obstacles to women pursuing a career in science, their progression through the cursus honorum it is still limited, as shown by the ratio of men to women in positions of greatest responsibility and relevance.
The life trajectories outlined above are examples of special performance and improvement. But no matter how exemplary the achievements of these and other women may be, the point is precisely that a scientific career does not require overcoming particularly difficult obstacles, but rather that men and women encounter the same facilities or difficulties in their professional careers. In other words, it is about men and women having the same rights and opportunities, so that neither of them should experience their profession as if it were a heroic journey.
This video about June Almeida is a contribution from the UPV / EHU Chair of Scientific Culture to the celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a date that reminds us of the importance of everyone having the same possibilities to enjoy the right to science, including full access to their professional performance at all levels.
The original version of this article has been published on the Women with Science blog of the Chair of Scientific Culture of the UPV / EHU. The video has been produced by K2000 and the script and direction have been provided by Jose A. Pérez Ledo.