A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War, by Patricia Fara, Oxford University Press, New York, $24.95
The void created by men going off to combat in World War I decreased traditional opposition to female employment, opening professional doors for many women, a select cadre of whom rose above the era’s stereotypes to become highly competent specialists in their fields. Patricia Fara’s A Lab of One’s Own is a fascinating exploration of the professional and social challenges facing female scientists in the early 20th century. In unflinching terms the author describes the blatant sexism these women encountered in both the academic and working worlds, as well as the vital contributions they made in such varied fields as technology, chemistry, medicine, mathematics and engineering. Along the way Fara documents the stories of such pioneers as medical expert Mona Geddes and botanist Helen Gwynne-Vaughn, whose names might otherwise have vanished into history.
A Lab of One’s Own is a revealing look at how World War I permanently altered societal mores, emboldening professional women to combat both acute and covert prejudices and sexism in the working world. Fara’s book is also a cautionary tale for the #MeToo generation, as women continue to struggle for equal pay, professional advancement and safer workplaces.