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Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 29–61 | Cite as

Portrait of an Outsider: Class, Gender, and the Scientific Career of Ida M. Mellen

  • Samantha K. MukaEmail author
Article

Abstract

In 1916, a 41 year old woman with little formal scientific education became the secretary of the New York Aquarium (NYA). In becoming the Aquarium’s first female officer, Ida M. Mellen realized her lifelong dream of successfully pursuing a career in the biological sciences and broke with the limitations and low expectations surrounding her sex and class backgrounds. By 1930, Mellen left the NYA and pursued a career in popular hobbyist writing, becoming the foremost expert on aquarium fishes and domesticated cats in the United States. Margaret Rossiter and other historians of science have illuminated women’s common career paths in the sciences, but little work has been done on individuals whose gender and class impacted their career. Building on Rossiter’s framework, this case study suggests that class, as much as gender, structured the scientific career of women. Through the narrative of the outsider scientific practitioner, we can more fully illuminate the social structure of scientific work. Examining the struggles of Mellen to enter and maintain a scientific career sheds light, not just on her own career path, but those alternately closed to her. If we wish to understand science in the early twentieth century, especially questions of inclusion and exclusion in the scientific process, we must examine those individuals who operated on the periphery of the “traditional” scientific path.

Keywords

Gender Class New York Aquarium Aquarist Hobbyist 

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Notes

Acknowledgments

The author would like to acknowledge Susan Lindee, Pamela Henson, and Jessica Martucci for their multiple readings and helpful suggestions. Portions of this work were presented at multiple conferences and workshops including ISHPSSB (2011) and the MBL/ASU History of Biology Seminar (2010). Comments and suggestions from these audiences have been incorporated into the finished paper. A Smithsonian Pre-Dissertation Fellowship and a Dissertation Research Fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania made this research possible. Finally, the comments of the two anonymous reviewers greatly enhanced this paper

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History and Sociology of Science DepartmentUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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