Bet you’ve heard of Robert Boyle,(1627-1691),pioneering chemist, scientist, philosopher and uber-doyen of the Royal Society. According to a new biography, his sister Katherine, Jones by marriage, Lady Ranelagh by title, (1615-1691) was his support, mentor, collaborator and patron all rolled into one. And as so happens with women in science , she has been effectively airbrushed from history-until now.
Her story is well summarised in the Nature article attached. Born in comfortable circumstances, she married a member of the Irish Peerage, by whom she had four children. He being a gambler and boor, like so many men, she escaped to an intellectual life in London, participating fully in discussion circles whose raison d’etre was to discern:
“useful knowledge revealed through experimental science”
When little brother Johnny came along, she was soon bankrolling his laboratory, collaborating, experimenting herself and generally taking charge of the epistemological side of the business. But alas! The nascent Royal Society was not due to admit women until 1945, and her brother became the focus of attention, both then and for centuries afterwards.
A new biography Lady Ranelagh: The incomparable life of Robert Boyle’s Sister by Michelle di Meo (UCP 2021) is reviewed by Georgina Ferry for Nature. We show the summary below, but earnestly entreat you to click to the link, because it’s a gripping review.
Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, worked at the heart of seventeenth-century scientific, political and philosophical debates. But, because she obeyed the convention that women should not put their thoughts into print, she is remembered chiefly — if at all — as the sister of chemist and Royal Society co-founder Robert Boyle. A scrupulously researched history of Ranelagh’s contributions to the tumultuous seventeenth century gives us a second chance to meet the woman known as “the Incomparable”.Nature | 5 min read
We can’t go back in time to correct the many injustices done to women in previous centuries. We can learn from our mistakes. And agree that bias, conscious or otherwise, is one of the single biggest brakes on human progress.
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