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The Matilda Effect: Women Scientists Unrecognized

History is well known for bias and discrimination. Hopefully lessons learned can prevent it from repeating.

Matilda Effect

Matilda Effect

The Matilda Effect

You might ask, what is the Matilda effect? It is the bias and discrimination against women that denies their discoveries and contributions in the scientific fields. Sometimes it was accidental, sometimes deliberate, and sometimes even totally ignored.

Professor Margaret W. Rossiter coined the term "the Matilda effect" in 1979. Rossiter was a historian who was perplexed as to why there weren't women being discussed, articles written, awards given, or even Nobel prizes in the scientific world. She has devoted her entire career to bringing women scientists to light.

The lack of women scientists being acknowledged has happened since the beginning of human study of science. The great Aristotle was convinced the male brain was more significant than the female's, thereby making the male superior. Then St. Augustine, in his wisdom, also stated women were inferior. These were undoubtedly archaic theories.

Time and time again, women scientists have suffered bias and discrimination as they paid their dues and deserved credit for their accomplishments. Numerous types of research have been done to discover why this was so prevalent in science communities.

Professor Margaret Rossiter

Professor Margaret Rossiter

Women Scientists Subjected to The Matilda Effect

The list is long, but here are a few select women scientists denied recognition in the science fields:

  • Nettie Stevens: The XY factor determines the sex of a baby. Watson and Morgan were credited with the discovery because of their more prominent reputation, and Stevens' contribution was ignored.
  • Rosalind Franklin: DNA and Photo 51. Watson and Crick, published in Nature, failed to recognize Franklin's contribution.
  • Marie Gautier: the chromosomal source of Down Syndrome. Jerome Lejeune took full credit for the discovery.
  • Marie Curie: The 1903 Nobel Prize was refused by her husband Pierre unless credit was also given to his wife, Marie. Marie went on to win another Nobel prize in 1905.

Other ignored women scientists deserved recognition, some coming to light after their deaths. But Nobel prizes are not offered posthumously, so they were never so honored.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

Marie Curie

Marie Curie

Male Scientists Who Did Credit Their Women Colleagues

A few male scientists did acknowledge their women colleagues. For example, Pierre Curie received the 1903 Nobel prize but refused to accept it unless his wife, Marie, was acknowledged.

George Whipple, George Minot, and William P. Murphy were awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize; Whipple shared his prize money with Frieda Robcheit, saying she deserved the prize.

From 1901 to 2021, there have been 972 Nobel prizes given, yet only 58 to women. Further, 600 Nobel prizes were given in science, but only 20 to women. It is obvious that more women need to be recognized for their contributions—and at least be nominated for awards.

The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize was first awarded in 1901 and named after Alfred Nobel, who, in his will, funded the prize money for recipients.

Men too often sweep the awards and few women are nominated, indicating a gender imbalance. The prize fluctuates but is worth approximately one million in U.S. dollars. The money is taxable to the winners. The award cannot be rescinded and can't be divided amongst more than three people.

There are five separate awards:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Physiology or Medicine
  • Literature
  • Peace
Gender Gap In Nobel Prizes

Gender Gap In Nobel Prizes

Sources Used


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.