A Place for Women

Cover of MIT - A Place for Women brochure, with photographs of Katharine Dexter (SB VII '04) and Paula Elster (SB V '74), 1972.

The title of this exhibit has a double meaning. The women featured in Under the Lens are scientists whose work engages with the materials of our world on a molecular level, using the lens of a microscope. At the same time, women’s ability to work as scientists and academics has been scrutinized in the lens of public opinion since Victorian-era debates about co-education.

women report

"Women in Science and Technology: A Report on an MIT Workshop," 1973.


This exhibit examines the work of women scientists in biology and chemistry at MIT beginning with Ellen Swallow Richards, MIT's first woman student, through the present day when many women scientists hold leadership positions at the Institute. These women leaders include biologist Sally Kornbluth, who serves as MIT’s 18th president; Nergis Mavalvala, Dean of MIT’s School of Science; Paula T. Hammond, who heads the Department of Chemical Engineering; and Amy E. Keating, who is the head of the Department of Biology. 


Items for this exhibit were selected from the Department of Distinctive Collections and focus on women students and faculty in biology, biological engineering, chemistry, and chemical engineering to trace the lineage of the current women scientists at MIT from the present day back to Richards and the students at MIT’s Woman's Laboratory, which operated from 1876 to 1883.