She pioneered the term ecofeminism while performing water tests and sewing buttons onto her male colleagues’ lab coats.
The dichotomy of Ellen’s genius and her willingness to ignore the subservience of her society are almost unfathomable. Yet they speak volumes about her patience, humility, and determination.
That is what it took for Ellen Swallow Richards to gain acceptance into the scientific community. When she was finally admitted into university, she graduated as the first female from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1873.
And yet, despite little respect or real support afforded to women in science, Ellen worked for free throughout much of her career as a professor. She dedicated her life to creating a disease-free setting for schools and proper nutrition for kids as part of a larger campaign advocating for the betterment of society.
The endless highlights of Ellen’s groundbreaking success are outlined in yesterday’s article, “Ellen Swallow Richard: Anything but a Normal Life”, but Ellen’s prescient understanding of our wellbeing in relation to nature and the environment is particularly extraordinary for two reasons.
Of interest is the term ecofeminism. Ellen’s studies can be compared to a modern feminist understanding of ecology because they suggest a direct correlation between the oppression of women and the wasteful dominance and destruction of our environment. While this may seem like a stretch because ecofeminism was not a recognized concept until 1974 (during the third wave of feminism), it isn’t.
In her book Le Féminisme ou la Mort, French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne shares her beliefs about women’s special connection to nature and their necessary environmental activism. While men certainly dominated scientific study, work, and homelife during this Victorian Era, Ellen continued to forge ahead with her studies. She overcame gender oppression and her later work, founding scientific schools and supporting women’s laboratories, helped encourage new leaders and changes to the environment.
Given WomanScape’s month-long spotlight on genius women, Ellen should be seen as a heroic woman in history. Her studies helped to lessen the environmental damage that would have ensued had she not persisted. Only relatively recently have these issues taken center stage in the evolution of our human epoch.
In plain speak, humans have accelerated the destructive changes in the earth’s environment – from pollution to massive habitat and animal extinction – since the onset of the industrial revolution. Lasting geological changes to the earth echo Ellen’s warnings about the need for balance in our world. Ellen’s research focused on harnessing greater human efficiencies that would help us to live in greater harmony with nature.
To this end, WomanScape has two featured products today and a third product available this Thursday to support our storytelling platform. The first two are beautiful glass products that make a great desk accessory or gift for the upcoming holidays.
The Glass Eye Studio Cresting Wave Blown Glass Paperweight represents the beautiful blue waters and is handmade by artisans from the Glass Eye Studio in Seattle. They are part of an environmental series and contain ash from Mount St. Helen’s 1980’s eruption.
The second artwork is also made of glass but shaped like a Cresting Wave Sculpture. The colors are spectacular and each unique handcrafted piece brings a little bit of the ocean inside.
As we look to a new age of environmental challenges that demand our full attention as well our creative collaborative solutions, everyone’s efforts are needed to slow the devastating effects of our human footprint. Thanks to Ellen Swallow Richards, we can see that nothing is impossible.