Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz

The Awesome Woman of the Day for Wednesday, May 2, 2012 is Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, who was an amazing scientist/naturalist, but who is mostly known for being the first president and one of the primary forces behind the founding of Radcliffe College (her initial push had been to allow women to attend Harvard itself). Bouteloua: Women in Science Before the Civil War, Catherine Creed.

She was born in Arlington Heights, MA, USA on December 5, 1822 and was one of seven children. She met her husband, Louis Agassiz, at the home of her sister, who was married to a Harvard professor. Louis was already a famous Swiss scientist and was teaching at Harvard. Elizabeth worked as a homemaker and (step)mother, but she also collaborated with Louis and established herself as both an educator and a naturalist. See
for a timeline of her accomplishments.

Biography appears below, from the Cambridge Women's Heritage Project Database
 Elizabeth Cabot (Cary) Agassiz (b. December 5 1822 in Boston, d. June 27, 1907 in Arlington Heights, Mass.)First President of Radcliffe College, educator, science writer Elizabeth Cabot Cary was the daughter of Mary Ann Cushing (Perkins) and Thomas Graves Cary, a Boston business man. Through her sister, who had married a professor of Greek at Harvard, she met the Swiss naturalist, Louis Agassiz, who had begun a brilliant career teaching at Harvard and who founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology . The two married in 1850 and she took on the role of stepmother to his three children by his first marriage. Five years later, she opened a girls’ school in their home at 36 Quincy Street Cambridge where Louis Agassiz and a number of other Harvard professors lectured. The school provided a small income and addressed the need for the education of young women until 1863 when the school closed. Elizabeth Agassiz took notes on her husband’s lectures and published introductory texts on natural history with her stepson, the oceanographer and natural historian, Alexander Agassiz.. In 1865, she co-authored a record of her husband’s expedition to Brazil, A Journey in Brazil. Later, she served as scribe for the Hassler Expedition (1872), providing the only account of her husband’s last theories on glaciation. After Louis Agassiz’s death in 1873, Elizabeth joined six other women in an attempt to persuade Harvard to open its doors to women. The result was the Harvard Annex, founded in 1879, which later became Radcliffe College. She threw her influence to those who believed that women students should be offered the same courses as the men and be taught by the same professors. At the age of 72, she accepted the first presidency of Radcliffe and remained at its head until 1902. Shortly before her death she moved from Cambridge to Arlington Heights where she died in 1907 at the age of seventy-five.References: Notable American Women (1609-1950) Vol I; Dictionary of American Biography, (1928).