History of Women Scientists in Twentieth-Century Canada

This project investigates the development of gender equality and women’s rights in twentieth-century Canada through a historical research study about science policy and the National Research Council (NRC). As Canada’s premier organization for scientific research, the NRC administers federal funding to support original research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine, among other fields. Over the past one hundred years, the NRC has played a central role in the development and implementation of federal science policy in Canada. The NRC’s institutional history is thus important for understanding the lives and experiences of women who challenged gender barriers while pursuing professional careers in science.

By focusing on the NRC’s history of funding for the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics) between 1920 and 2020, this study examines previously unused archival sources and oral interview materials to learn about the history of women scientists in Canada. Women have played an active and influential role in the progression of scientific research in Canada over the past one hundred years, but silences in the historical record often incorrectly overshadow or ignore women’s involvement in and contributions to science. It is important to foreground women’s voices and lived experiences, unearthing lessons from the past to contextualize and understand existing barriers for aspiring women scientists. A gender-based analysis of NRC history will yield information useful for understanding the deep roots of gender inequality among professional scientists in Canada, with the ultimate goal of generating knowledge useful for informing current policies to promote and advance women professionals in STEM-focused careers, disciplines, and administrative positions both in and beyond academia.