Survival of the fittest: the life and struggles of Helen Gwynne-Vaughan
Fungal geneticist and former BMS President Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967) served in both World Wars, but she fought for equality throughout her life. Many of her colleagues followed Charles Darwin’s pronouncement that women were intellectually inferior, and although she carved out an eminent career in the Army and as a University professor, she constantly battled against discrimination. Feeling herself to bean outsider in every phase of her life, Gwynne-Vaughan repeatedly aroused antagonism by her rebellion against social norms and her determination to succeed.
In this talk, Patricia discusses the life of Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, describing her successes and her setbacks, and setting them within the context of contemporary attitudes. In doing so, she casts light on concealed prejudices that survive today, despite equality legislation.
Dr Patricia Fara is an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and former President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18). She is particularly interested in the Enlightenment, scientific imagery and women in science, both past and present. A regular contributor to In our Time and other radio/TV programmes, she has published a range of popular books on the history of science, including the prize-winning Science: A Four Thousand Year History (2009) and, most recently, Life after Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career (2021). Of particular relevance to this talk are A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in World War One (2018) and Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science and Serendipity (2012).