March 19, 2021
Focusing on World War II and the early Cold War, this talk uncovers the hidden history of early efforts to expand U.S. women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (now called STEM). In the two decades before the women’s movements of the 1960s, a number of women and women’s organizations (such as the Society of Women Engineers) tirelessly campaigned to enlarge education and employment opportunities for women in these fields. At a time when anxiety about America’s supply of scientific personnel ran high and when open support for women’s rights generated suspicion, these women found their broadest audience and widest reception when presenting “scientific womanpower” as a solution to national security concerns. This strategy allowed them to collaborate with government officials, industry representatives, educators, parents, and female students in a shared effort to expand the country’s supply of STEM talent. They sponsored career days at local high schools, published vocational guidance materials for young women, offered scholarships to female students, and more broadly sought to challenge gender stereotypes. Their work is important because it paved the way for later efforts to improve women’s status in both STEM and society. By looking at past and present efforts to expand women’s participation, this talk will shed light on the gains achieved to date as well as women’s ongoing struggles in these fields.
Dr. Laura Micheletti Puaca is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Minor Program in Women’s and Gender Studies at Christopher Newport University. Her research and teaching interests include the history of gender, science, technology, and education in the 20th century United States.
Puaca is the author of Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014), which won the 2017 History of Science Society’s Margaret W. Rossiter Prize for best book on the history of women in science. She has explored the history of STEM in numerous other publications as well, and has devoted particular attention to the history of the Society of Women Engineers.
Puaca earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Douglass College, Rutgers University, where she earned a B.A. in History/Political Science, a B.A. in Women’s Studies, and an International Studies Certificate. Her work has been supported by the American Association of University Women’s postdoctoral fellowship program, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University.
She is currently working on a new book-length project examining disability and domesticity in the post-World War II United States and is the recipient of the 2017 Disability History Association’s Publication Award for Best Article/Book Chapter for her essay, “The Largest Occupational Group of All the Disabled: Homemakers with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation in Postwar America” that appeared in Michael Rembis, ed. Disabling Domesticity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).