Sheffield, Suzanne Le-May 1967-

views updated

SHEFFIELD, Suzanne Le-May 1967-


Born 1967. Education: York University, Ph.D., 1997.


Home—43 Beech Tree Run, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3T 2E5, Canada. Office—Department of History, 6135 University Ave., Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4P9, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, assistant professor of history, currently associate director of Centre for Learning and Teaching.


Revealing New Worlds: Three Victorian Women Naturalists, Routledge (New York, NY), 2001.

(Author of introduction) Margaret Gatty, Parables of Nature ("Science for Children" series), Thoemmes Press (Bristol, England), 2003.

Women and Science: Social Impact and Interaction (volume 5 in "Science and Society" series), ABC-CLIO (Santa Barbara, CA), 2004.

Contributor to anthologies, including Culture and Science in the Nineteenth-Century Media, edited by Sally Shuttleworth and Geoffrey Canton, Ashgate, 2004, and to Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, Routledge, 2000. Contributor of book reviews to periodicals, including Isis, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, Victorian Review, Canadian Bulletin for the History of Medicine, and Quarterly Review of Biology. Supervisory editor for scientific illustrators, Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Scientists, Thoemmes Press (Bristol, England), 2004.


Suzanne Le-May Sheffield's Revealing New Worlds: Three Victorian Women Naturalists, based on her Ph.D. thesis, studies women who, for the most part, defied tradition to pursue lives that gave them great pleasure. In this work Sheffield explains how Margaret Gatty was a much-loved British author of scientific books for children, the profits from which were applied toward the upkeep of her own family, including her own ten children which she raised with clergyman husband, Alfred Gatty. Gatty developed a passion for seaweed and the shore after reading William Henry Harvey's Phycologia Britannica. Sheffield notes that Gatty viewed the gathering of seaweed as an escape from the restrictions of the Victorian era. In her work she similarly advised the shedding of constrictive clothing and the enjoyment of moving about comfortably. Jim Endersby wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "this somewhat contradictory image of the respectable mother of ten urging other women to discard convention and its uniform and go scrambling across the rocks like children captures a central theme of Le-May Sheffield's triple biography."

The three women profiled in Revealing New Worlds did not bend to patriarchal society, or, if they did, only as much as was absolutely necessary. Although they did have to live within certain limits, Sheffield writes, they all pursued careers in science. Marianne North was a botanical artist, but she defied convention by traveling alone. Her paintings, displayed at Kew Gardens in London, contain images of flowers that she captured in their natural habitats. Eleanor Ormerod was an entomologist who presented herself as helping farmers, and so was able to publish scientific papers on insect pests without attracting criticism. She was wealthy enough to be able to reject a salary from the Royal Agricultural Society, which added to her acceptance. Many awards were bestowed on Ormerod, and she became the first woman to graduate from Edinburgh University, receiving an honorary LL.D. in 1900. Instead of focusing on her own achievements, however, Ormerod considered her work an enhancement of that the male scientists who had gone before her.

Endersby wrote that in Revealing New Worlds "Sheffield has done a fine job of recreating the diverse circumstances of these three remarkable women, overturning the assumption that Victorian women were helpless in the face of the roles that men had in mind for them, without ever denying that they were oppressed." Endersby found that Sheffield's portrayals of the three women are "so fascinating that one is left wanting to know more."

Sheffield's Women and Science: Social Impact and Interaction is a study of women of science from the 1600s to the early twenty-first century who helped shape society's evolving view of the educated woman. Nobel Prize-winning physical chemist Marie Curie is, of course, the first notable woman who comes to mind, having had to overcome gender prejudice before she was able to contribute through her science. Other biographical sketches profile such women as Maria Merian, who in the late 1600s and early 1700s studied native plants and insects, and Barbara McClintock, whose work in the 1950s was not recognized until 1984, when she won the Nobel Prize. Sheffield concludes by assessing the state of women in science in the early twenty-first century and what steps are being taken to attract more women to scientific professions.



Times Literary Supplement, February 14, 2003, Jim Endersby, review of Revealing New Worlds: Three Victorian Women Naturalists, p. 27.