Women Scientists (1500+)

Latin America, like most of the world outside of Europe and the U.S., has traditionally been on the periphery of science. Colonialism and neo-colonialism, lack of funding and infrastructure, and the unwillingness of the international scientific community to pay attention to the science produced in the South have all relegated Latin America and the Caribbean to a secondary role. But what of those scientists within this region who were themselves made peripheral, not only to scientific centers but within their own societies? Female scientists in Latin America and the Caribbean have struggled against these mutually-reinforcing challenges since (at least) the early colonial period, and although they have long done excellent work in various scientific fields, the male-dominated scientific establishment (much less international science on the whole) has only recently begun to recognize their merit and numerous achievements.

Female scientific knowledge, especially relating to nature and health, were and are highly valued in many indigenous societies. Women needed to understand the properties, uses, and benefits of various natural resources (animal, plant, mineral) in order to provide for and take care of their families while also creating specialized niches in which they were recognized for their expertise (Bain 1993). In providing local healthcare, men often acted as curanderos or shamans while women reigned in obstetrics and midwifery. According to Paula M. Sesia, indigenous women's prenatal care developed through generations of empirical experimentation, a circumstance that continues to engender a significant amount of respect from the local community despite the introduction of bio-medicine (Sesia 1996).

With the Spanish conquest, indigenous and European ideas about gender collided, and while there was much mutual acculturation, the political dominance of the Spaniards went a long way to institutionalizing Spanish gender norms. From the colonial era until well into the nineteenth century, there was almost no space in Latin America or the Caribbean for female scientific knowledge. Even the most learned women, like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (seen in the sources), faced tremendous social and religious pressures to renounce the pursuit of knowledge.

The independence era, however, opened some new opportunities for practicing science. Most of the new American nation states strove for modernity, and some countries (especially Mexico and, later, those of the Southern Cone) realized the potential of women to have a positive impact on society through the practice of medicine. Historian Lee M. Penyak noted how mid-nineteenth century Mexico encouraged women to train in obstetrics and midwifery (traditionally female sciences on both sides of the Atlantic) and the obvious talent of many of these women demonstrated to male doctors that women were indeed capable and they were soon allowed into other medical spheres (Penyak 2003).

In the Southern Cone countries (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay), the first generation of female doctors, those who earned medical degrees circa 1910, were often leading figures in national (and international) feminist movements. Doctoras like Alicia Moreau and Paulina Luisi tried to liberate women both politically and biologically by campaigning for universal suffrage and promoting sexual education. Their version of sexual education and their fight against prostitution and alcoholism were closely tied to the tenets of social hygiene and eugenics, both of which were very popular in early twentieth century Latin America. Educating women about their bodies was thus necessary to both achieving social equality and improving the genetic makeup of the nation on the whole (Lavrin 1995). Despite many obstacles, these doctoras were instrumental to passing legislation on women's and children's rights and, through vehicles like the Pan American Scientific Congresses, even helped spread these progressive ideas to North America (Miller 1986).

In the last thirty years, women scientists in Latin America have come much closer to equality with their male counterparts. Although some disciplines like physics, engineering, and certain highly specialized medical fields are still dominated by men, females are enrolling in technical schools, scientific post-graduate programs, and medical school at ever-rising rates. They face many of the same challenges as Latin American male scientists, such as lack of jobs in their field, and many aspects of Latin American society remain quite sexist. It is a significant figure, though, that about 47% of people working in the sciences in Latin America are women, a number almost 20% higher than the world average. While there are still gender (and race and class) barriers in Latin American science, the dramatic advancements made by female scientists (especially in the last 100 years) is a testament to the hard work, tenacity, and natural talent of an increasingly large body of women who refused to stay on the periphery.

Questions for further exploration:

1. How have indigenous women skilled in the sciences coped with the pressures of westernization, capitalism, and "modernity"? Consider the source in this topic on indigenous midwives, but see also the topics on Healers and Indigenous Medicine and Inca Weaving.

2. Compare the approach to women's health and social hygiene of the doctoras Paulina Luisi and Alicia Moreau to that of early twentieth century Latin American eugenicists and hygienistas in general. How did each approach perceived problems such as women's role in society, social degeneration, and the role of hygiene in public and private life?

3. Concepcion Campa Huergo, seen in this topic's sources, is one of several Latin American female scientists in the recent past to earn international renown for her work. Research a twentieth century Latin American female scientist who is not noted in the sources. Discuss her contributions to science, any specific geographic or gender obstacles she has overcome, and what--if any--impact being a Latin American woman has had on the kind of science she does.

4. Throughout the twentieth century there have been several important connections between female scientists in Latin America and those in the United States. These bonds were fused by individuals like Agnes Chase and Alicia Moreau who travelled across the Americas as well as by networks like the Pan American Conference on Women that brought progressive females from both regions together. Compare the twentieth century relationship between female scientists in the U.S. and Latin America with the overall scientific relationship of the two regions. Make an argument as to why these relationships are similar or different.

5. Consider how the kinds of science that women have practiced in Latin America have changed from the pre-Columbian era to the present. What social, international, or personal choices have driven these changes?

Further reading:

Bain, Jennifer H. "Mexican Rural Women's Knoweldge of the Environment." Mexican Studies/ Estudios Mexicanos. 9: 2 (Summer 1993): 259-174.

Henson, Pamela M. "Invading Arcadia: Women Scientists in the Field in Latin America, 1900-1950." The Americas. 58: 4, Field Science in Latin America (April 2002): 577-600.

Lavrin, Asuncion. Women, Feminism, and Social Change: in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Miller, Francesca. "The International Relations of Women of the Americas, 1890-1928." The Americas. 43: 2 (October 1986): 171-182.

Munoz, Estela Altuna and Frederick S. Weaver. "'Out of Place': Ecuadorian Women in Science and Engineering Programs." Latin American Perspectives. 24: 4, Ecuador, Part 2: Women and Popular Classes in Struggle (July 1997): 81-89.

Penyak, Lee M. "Obstetrics and the Emergence of Women in Mexico's Medical Establishment." The Americas. 60:1 (July 2003): 59-85.

Powers, Karen Vieira. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Sesia, Paola M. "'Women Come Here on Their Own When They Need to': Prenatal Care, Authoritative Knowledge, and Maternal Health in Oaxaca." Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series. 10: 2 (June 1996): 121-140.

Aegopogon cenchroides

Date: 1923
Owner: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation
Source Type: Images

 

Aegopogon cenchroides, commonly known as relaxgrass, is an uncommon grass found throughout Mexico and South America that was first cataloged by Humboldt and Bonpland during their expedition to Latin America. The picture here was drawn by Agnes Chase (1869-1963), a U.S. botanist who made several scientific expeditions to Latin America in the early twentieth century, an era in which expeditions, even more so than local science, were restrictively male. U.S. botanists who wanted to explore and collect in the tropics usually relied on financial and logistical support from well-funded institutions, but these institutions almost never deigned to fund females. Tropical research centers like the Smithsonian's Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal Zone forbade women to have overnight stays because women were not considered true professionals and it was feared they would both lower the overall level of discourse and turn a research center into a site of promiscuity. Women like Chase, however, were able to overcome these barriers through their own determination and by eschewing U.S. institutions in favor of support from local Latin American scientists.

Before becoming the world's leading authority in grasses, Chase got her start in science with botanical drawings. Scientific art was, since the eighteenth century, considered to be an acceptable way for women to participate on the periphery of science, and many women drew the pictures for their husband's and father's scientific works. Chase, however, would not be relegated to the periphery, and she used field work, especially in Latin America, to achieve international renown. More so than other parts of the world, the tropics--which the "science" of environmental determinism saw as hotbeds of lasciviousness--were considered an inappropriate region for civilized northern women to explore alone. Yet with almost no external financial support, Chase traveled to Puerto Rico in 1913 to conduct field research integral to the publication of her co-authored book Grasses of the West Indies. In 1924, she spent eight months collecting plant in Brazil, where she obtained about 500 samples from Brazil's vast grasslands.

In 1940, the seventy-one year old Chase was invited to Venezuela to help modernize pasture management, part of a common trend among Latin American countries to invite foreign specialists to improve local scientific infrastructure. During this trip she worked closely with botanist Henri Pittier (see the Botany and Scientific Institutions topics for more on him) and Dra. Zoraida Luces, the three of whom retraced the travels of Humboldt across eastern Venezuela. Chase later invited Luces to spend a year training with her at the Smithsonian Institute (where she now held a leading position) and Luces returned home as Venezuela's national grass expert. Luces is just one of several Latin American female scientists with whom Chase maintained a correspondence, trained in Washington, and worked with during her expeditions. Unlike most male-led scientific expeditions, Chase gave at least as much back to Latin America as she took away.

Although Chase was not herself from Latin America, she broke down barriers that restricted U.S. women from exploring the tropic's bounty while facilitating the advancement of women scientists throughout Latin America. From humble beginnings as an illustrator of plants, Chase made a huge contribution to opening Latin America and the Caribbean to all scientists.

Reference: Henson, Pamela M. "Invading Arcadia: Women Scientists in the Field in Latin America, 1900-1950." In The Americas, vol. 58, no. 4 Field Science in Latin America (Apr., 2002), pp. 577-600.


CITATION: ''Aegopogon cenchroides Humb. et Bonpl.'' Accession Number: 6010.0002. Hitchcock-Chase Collection of Grass Drawings, courtesy of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution. huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu. 

DIGITAL ID: 12726

 

Alicia Moreau de Justo

Date: 1885-1986
Owner: Red Informativa de Mujeres de Argentina
Source Type: Images

 

Throughout her long life, Dra. Alicia Moreau (1885-1986) combined medicine and a progressive agenda of social reform in a tireless effort to bring equality and justice to nearly every part of Argentine society. At the age of twenty-one she was one of the co-founders of El Centro Feminista de Argentina and, in 1913, she earned her medical degree with honors from the University of Buenos Aires.

Moreau, a lifelong socialist, believed that feminism was a product of new socio-economic realities that brought women and children out of the domestic sphere and into the unforgiving workforce of capitalism. As taxpayers, women had a right to the vote as a means of defending their rights and representing female interests like education and childcare reform. A primary vehicle for Moreau and other feminists to express their views was Nuestra Causa a journal founded in 1919 that was edited by Moreau. Yet despite earning some concessions from the government (like a 1925 law regulating female and child labor), women would not receive the vote in Argentina until 1947 under Peronism.

A large part of emancipating women, though, was freeing the female body from a traditional culture in which women's biology, much less sexuality, was rarely discussed. As a social hygienista, Moreau advocated teaching young women about reproduction and their own bodies so they could make decisions that would protect them from the social and economic hardships of single motherhood and venereal diseases, problems that--according to prevalent theories--degenerated both individuals and society as a whole. A large part of the increased freedom to discuss female sexuality came with the opening of the healthcare profession to women. Certified doctors like Moreau broke the monopoly of male physicians over authoritative knowledge of sexuality and could use this crucial knowledge for issues that directly benefited women, both medically and socially.

Another result of the broadening sphere of professional medicine was the emerging field of puericulture, a kind of "scientific" approach to motherhood meant to engender the healthiest and "fittest" children possible. Thus Moreau and others promoted female education in physiology, chemistry, and hygiene so that mothers would be able to act as medical experts within the family and have the wisdom to avoid such external degenerating agents as alcohol and casual sex. Moreau and other feminists attended the First International Feminine Congress in Buenos Aires (1910) and the First American Congress of the Child (Buenos Aires, 1916), international scientific events that were the first steps of institutionalizing "scientific" motherhood in many parts of the world.

Moreau objected to the corruption of Argentina's government through many different regimes from the 1920s until the 1980s; even in her 90s, she participated in the protests against Argentina's Dirty War. A life of breaking down social barriers and fighting for human rights marks the scientific and political life of this remarkable woman.

Reference: Lavrin, Asuncion. Women, Feminism, and Social Change: in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
 


CITATION: "Alicia Moreau de Justo." Red Informativa de Mujeres de Argentina. www.rimaweb.com.ar/protagonistas/amoreau_egiberti.html. 

DIGITAL ID: 12314

 

Brazilian Women in Physics

Date: 2008
Owner: Academia Brasileira de Ciencias
Source Type: Images

Scientists at an event honoring women in Brazilian science. Female physicists are still uncommon in Brazil and the rest of Latin America despite the fact that women are well represented in many other sciences: about 46% of all Latin American scientists are women while the world average is only 27%. In Brazil, all but a handful of the top physics positions at universities and grant agencies are held by men, making decisions as to who receives promotions and funding reliant on an almost exclusively male point of view. Nevertheless, some female physicists have earned national and international recognition for their work. Belita Koiller, a full professor of physics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, won a 2005 UNESCO (United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization) award for her theoretical research on the behavior of electrons in glass and other disordered materials. Koiller was also the first woman admitted to the Brazilian Academy of Science. Patricia Wieland is a nuclear physicist who served as the Director of Nuclear Installations for the Brazilian Energy commission and Prof. Elisa Baggio-Saitovich is the former president of the Brazilian Physics Society. Yet, despite these successes, only 11% of students in Brazilian postgraduate physics programs today are women.


DIGITAL ID: 12490

El Problema de la Prostitucion

Date: 1926
Owner: Sindicato Medico del Uruguay
Source Type: Images

Dra. Paulina Luisi (1875-1940) was the first female doctor in Uruguay and the leading figure of that country's feminist movement during the early twentieth century. Luisi was ubiquitous among the cohort of feminists that sprang up in the Southern Cone circa 1900 and she exercised considerable sway in national policies concerning women, sexuality, and public health.

As a young woman, she was both the first Uruguayan woman to earn a bachelor's degree (1899) and the first to graduate from medical school (1909). Even before completing her medical degree, Luisi made public appeals for the introduction of sexual education in Uruguayan schools, a radical concept at the time. She promoted teaching not only technical reproductive knowledge, but also stressed the importance of personal ethics and the outcome of undisciplined sexual activity. She thus believed that sex should not be pursued for pleasure alone but only for the purpose of having healthy children within a marriage (though pleasure could be a byproduct of such coitus). In an effort to erode the double standard of responsibility for children, men and women were both to be taught responsible parenting.

Like many scientists, doctors, and hygienistas of this period, she argued that the state ought to take an active role in controlling some aspects of personal sexuality for the benefit of society on the whole. She supported eugenics measures that would prevent parents with transmissible diseases from reproducing and campaigns against alcoholism, drug use, and--as seen in this text--regulated prostitution. Prostitution, according to Luisi, spread venereal diseases, led to degeneration, and added to social woes like poverty and moral licentiousness.

Her ideas about sexual education and social hygiene were closely bound with her actions as a social reformer, one who fought for workers rights and gender equality. Although she was not entirely against abortions (she supported them for fetuses that would by mentally or physically disabled), she thought most abortions were the result of social problems that could be prevented by progressive government reforms. For example, if the state offered aid to workers who got pregnant and had children, then poor women would not need to get abortions for economic reasons (e.g. could not support themselves if forced to miss work with a child).

Luisi may be best remembered for her campaign for women's suffrage and equal rights. She led the Alianza Uruguaya de Mujeres, the most influential (but not only) women's group to impact Uruguayan policy makers, and she became a prominent figure in international feminist circles as well (she was honorary vice president at the 1922 Pan-American Women's Conference in Baltimore). Thanks largely to her efforts, Uruguayan women earned the vote in 1932, relatively early for Latin America.

Reference: Lavrin, Asuncion. Women, Feminism, and Social Change: in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.


CITATION: Luisi, Paulina. El Problema de la Prostitucion: Abolicionismo o Reglamentacion?. Montevideo: Sindicato Medico del Uruguay, 1926.

DIGITAL ID: 12312

 

Nurse and Indian Midwife

Date: 1930
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images

 

Latin American medicine can be divided into two broad categories, biomedicine (modern western practices) and ethno-medicine (the more traditional healing practices of American Indians). This division extends to many of the specialized subfields of medicine, including obstetrics and midwifery, and even today the majority of women living in poor rural areas of Latin America visit midwives, or parteras, for prenatal care and the birth itself.

The Mexican state of Oaxaca, where about 80% of all births in 1990 were done by rural midwives, became a site of tension between bio- and ethno-medicine during much of the twentieth century, an era of self-conscious modernization for the Mexican state. The government censored ethno-medicine as primitive until the mid 1970s, when the medical establishment decided that a few aspects of Indian healing, namely herbal medicine and midwifery, could be actively modernized to improve rural healthcare. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government provided formal training to over 15,000 parteras. The training, however, belittled Indian obstetric knowledge, and instead of trying to find a constructive middle ground between the two medical traditions, the instructors tried to impose bio-medical practices and replace Indian ones. Despite taking these courses, the vast majority of midwives did not change their methods.

Part of the reason why most ethno-obstetricians have been reluctant to co-opt western practices is that they are experienced with conducting very different kinds of examinations than those taught by modern nurses. For one, ethno-obstetricians do not actually come into contact with the patient's vagina or internal sexual organs. Instead, they do the entire examination externally, by massaging the stomach and back of the pregnant woman (known as a sobado), moving the uterus to a more central position, and, if necessary, performing external versions (rotating the fetus to a head-down position). The bio-medical nurse-instructors, however, strongly discourage the sobado, claiming it can harm the fetus, but the vast majority of midwives continue to perform this procedure largely because it is what their patients want and expect.

The knowledge of Oaxacan midwives is very different from that of western obstetricians, yet it is nevertheless based on a strong empirical tradition that continues to engender the trust of local residents. Many recent commentators stress the need for fusing the most useful aspects of bio- and ethno-medicine in order to provide the best possible primary care to rural areas, yet a deep divide between these two empirically-developed traditions still persists in many areas.

Reference: Sesia, Paola M. "'Women Come Here on Their Own When They Need to': Prenatal Care, Authoritative Knowledge, and Maternal Health in Oaxaca." In Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, vol. 10, no. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 121-140.
 

CITATION: "Auxiliary in public health nursing visits midwife in rural Mexico."  United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A016731.

DIGITAL ID: 13109

 

Obstetrics and Child Health

Date: 1950
Owner: Asociacion Nacional de Medicas Mexicanas
Source Type: Images

 

While the Mexican ethno-obstetricians in the previous source are highly respected professionals in their own communities, female biomedical obstetricians played a decisive role in legitimizing Mexican women as viable members of the medical profession on the whole. Throughout most of the western world in the nineteenth century, male physicians actively excluded and denigrated midwives, the traditional experts in maternal and infant care, as inferior medical professionals. The masculinization of obstetrics, and medicine in general, was part of an effort by male doctors to bolster their own importance by making their field as exclusive as possible. In Mexico, however, women in the second half of the nineteenth century found a niche in the scientific community as professional obstetricians, a role that they used as a launching pad into other aspects of medical science.

In the mid 1800s, Mexico's School of Medicine offered a degree program in obstetrics and midwifery that was not only open to women, but encouraged them to become expert in this still new field of medicine. The School of Medicine's program (which had the same rigorous standards for both women and men) produced a cadre of females whose consistently excellent work as obstetricians and midwives challenged the male establishment to tolerate women in other branches of medicine as well. Women did not wait long to prove their capacities in these fields either. As early as 1887, Matilde Montoya--a graduate of the School of Medicine's obstetrics program--became the first female doctor in Mexico and was certified to practice medicine, surgery, and obstetrics.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the presence of Mexican women in the medical profession has increased dramatically. While from 1945-1949 only 5% of people to earn a medical degree from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) were women, females made up 56.4% of medical graduates in 2000. Nevertheless, although Mexican women are filling the ranks of general practitioners, the more specialized (and highly paid) branches of medicine are still disproportionately male.

Reference: Penyak, Lee M. "Obstetrics and the Emergence of Women in Mexico's Medical Establishment." In The Americas, vol. 60, no. 1 (Jul., 2003), pp. 59-85.


CITATION: Escuelas de Medicina de la Republica Mexicana. Collection of the Asociación Nacional de Médicas Mexicanas.

DIGITAL ID: 13108

 

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Date: 1680
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images

 

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695) was a seventeenth century Mexican polymath, a female genius renowned for her plays, poetry, painting, proto-feminist views, and knowledge of science. As a teenager in Mexico City, Sor Juana, though largely self-educated, impressed the viceroyal court with her aptitude for all manners of learning and, instead of sacrificing her studies and intellectual freedom to the constraints of marriage, she decided to become a nun. In the convent, Sor Juana amassed one of the largest libraries in the New World and a variety of scientific and musical instruments. Her secular plays and other writings earned her much praise in her lifetime, and many of her works dealt with advanced scientific subjects like astronomy.

Sor Juana eventually came under attack for her intellectual pursuits. Leading men of the Catholic Church censured her for focusing on scientific and scholarly studies that they considered to be the exclusive sphere of men, and the Bishop of Lima, Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, published a letter criticizing her for engaging in secular learning. In what is perhaps her most famous writing, Sor Juana published a reply to the Bishop in 1691 in which she defended the benefits of female education and averred that studying the natural sciences furthered one's ability to know the sacred.

By the early 1690s, however, Sor Juana was finally overwhelmed by the omnipresent forces that sought to reserve learning for men alone. She sold off her books and instruments, confessed that her secular pursuits were sinful, and died soon after.

CITATION: "Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz." 18th Century. The Granger Collection, New York. 0023636.

DIGITAL ID: 13054

Source References

Web Sites

Mujer y Ciencia: Los Componentes de una Paradoja (Comunidad Virtual de Gobernabilidad: Desarollo Humano e Institucional): Article by Marianela Denegri Coria that details the many obstacles women face in the scientific profession and the paradoxes associated with them.

Women, Science, and Technology in Latin America: Diagnoses and Strategies (UNESCO): Website dedicated to exploring the role of Latin American women in science and technology and a search for ways to increase their involvement.

Publications

Bain, Jennifer H. "Mexican Rural Women's Knoweldge of the Environment." Mexican Studies/ Estudios Mexicanos. 9: 2 (Summer 1993): 259-174.

Bronfman, Alejandra. Measures of Equality: Social Science, Citizenship, and Race in Cuba, 1902-1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Henson, Pamela M. "Invading Arcadia: Women Scientists in the Field in Latin America, 1900-1950." The Americas. 58: 4, Field Science in Latin America (April 2002): 577-600.

Lavrin, Asuncion. Women, Feminism, and Social Change: in Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay, 1890-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Miller, Francesca. "The International Relations of Women of the Americas, 1890-1928." The Americas. 43: 2 (October 1986): 171-182.

Munoz, Estela Altuna and Frederick S. Weaver. "'Out of Place': Ecuadorian Women in Science and Engineering Programs." Latin American Perspectives. 24: 4, Ecuador, Part 2: Women and Popular Classes in Struggle, (July 1997): 81-89.

Penyak, Lee M. "Obstetrics and the Emergence of Women in Mexico's Medical Establishment." The Americas. 60: 1 (July 2003): 59-85.

Powers, Karen Vieira. Women in the Crucible of Conquest: The Gendered Genesis of Spanish American Society, 1500-1600. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Sesia, Paola M. "'Women Come Here on Their Own When They Need to': Prenatal Care, Authoritative Knowledge, and Maternal Health in Oaxaca." Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series. 10: 2 (June 1996): 121-140.

Undefined

Date: 2006
Owner: Alma Mater, Cuba
Source Type: Images

 

Concepcion Campa Huergo (1951- ) has served as president and director of the Finlay Institute, a ten million USD facility in the Western Havana Bio-Cluster, since 1989. She created and received international patents for the world's first vaccine against meningitis B, a disease that strikes about 150,000 people worldwide each year, killing close to 17,000. Before performing tests on volunteers, Huergo injected herself and her children with the bioengineered vaccine to ensure its safety. After helping to nip a potential epidemic in the bud, the vaccine was administered to every Cuban child and is now being exported to several other countries. Brazil alone has imported millions of doses of Huergo's vaccine and Smith-Kline Beecham, a giant in Britain's drug industry, received a patent to import the vaccine for testing in 1999. Although several capitalist drug companies are now producing similar vaccine for meningitis B and C, Huergo demonstrated the potential for innovation, excellence, and profit in Cuban biotechnology.

Since its revolution, Cuba has placed significant emphasis on higher education and ensuring that women have equal access to it. Cuban women are not the only ones to benefit from the communist government's emphasis on female scientific education: women from throughout Latin America and much of the developing world travel to Cuba to receive training in fields such as medicine and bioengineering free of charge. This small island, long relegated to the peripheries of the scientific world, has recently become an important center for producing and distributing science to other traditionally peripheral regions and peoples, like Latin American women.


DIGITAL ID: 12308

 

Women's and Children's Health

Date: 1987
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images

 

This poster was published by the Uruguayan Ministry of Public Health, one of the many state-sponsored health organizations that sprang up throughout Latin America based on the infrastructure first created by the Pan American Sanitary Bureau. The headline tells parents that "Vaccinating your child is obligatory, for law and for love."

Infant care, however, was not one of the initial emphases of the PASB. According to historian Francesca Miller, it was Latin American women who were responsible for forwarding important measures regarding maternal and infant health, both in Latin America and, to a large degree, in the United States. Latin American women began presenting papers on "social problems" like hygiene and child welfare at Latin American Scientific Congresses in the late nineteenth century and continued to do so at the first Pan American Scientific Congress in 1908 (held in Santiago, Chile). Women constituted 6% of the speakers at this congress and established a reputation as the leading advocates of such issues.

Due to the leadership of Latin American women, these Pan-American scientific meetings became forums at which educated women from throughout the Americas could convene and discuss issues that were relevant to them. The social and intellectual networks they forged allowed them to initiate the Pan American Conference on Women, which first met in Baltimore in 1922 and was the first hemispheric organization for the advancement of women. This Pan American community was an early example of how science can act as a catalyst for social development. In fact, an Argentine woman, Dr. Mirta Roses-Periago, is the current director of the Pan American Health Organization.

Reference: Miller, Francesca. "The International Relations of Women of the Americas, 1890-1928." In The Americas, vol. 43, no. 2 (Oct., 1986), pp. 171-182.

CITATION: Vacunar su hijo es obligatorio por ley y por amor. United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A025886.

DIGITAL ID: 13043