Girls know science!

by Ed Sawicki - December 13, 2023


A few years ago, I bought a used science book with copyright years of 1860 and 1878. The book was Natural Philosophy in the Steele Series in the Natural Sciences. The student who used this book, Meta Heald, had written her name in it and dated it September 3, 1891. Notes on scraps of paper between the pages suggested she knew the material quite well.

I brought the book to lunch to show my friends and said, “I think students of this time had a better grasp of their science than most kids today.” This led to us discussing science topics.

One of my friends mentioned the Avogadro number and tried explaining it. He knew it was the number of molecules that occupied a volume and mentioned a number like “6.14 times ten to the 25th power”, but didn't know much else. A young woman who looked about 20 years old was wiping down the table next to us. She suddenly said, “Excuse me, but the number is 6.022 times ten to the 23rd power.”

I was surprised and asked her what that number represented. She explained it was the number of molecules that filled a volume of one mole. She then explained that she was in college and the material was on one of her recent tests.

It's good to have evidence that young women in 1891 knew science and so do those today.

Further reading

Khan Academy: The mole and Avogadro's number