A Woman to Know: Émilie du Chatelet

She was a great man whose only fault was in being a woman. — Voltaire

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


With her lover Voltaire (yes, *that* Voltaire), Émilie founded a research retreat in eastern France to further explore her scientific gifts and to nurture those of other fledgling thinkers. The little chateau was like an incubator for Enlightenment ideas, welcoming visitors from all over Europe. There, she hand-annotated Isaac Newton's newly-published laws of physics. She included a few corrections and elaborations of her own: namely, the as-yet-undiscovered concepts of energy, light and radiation.

But despite her tireless research, Émilie's poor personal life was ravaged by gossip. After several love affairs with poets (bye bye, Voltaire), much of her work was discredited or attributed to male contemporaries. But nonetheless, her example paved a path for other female scientists to throw their own well-ribboned hats into the male-dominated field.

"If I were king, I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it were, one half of human kind," Émilie wrote before her death in 1749. "I would have women participate in all human rights, especially those of the mind."

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