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Writing for Their Lives: America’s Pioneering Female Science Journalists

Wednesday, September 6, 2023 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm


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Historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette discusses her new book in conversation with Elizabeth Quill, Science News Executive Editor

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette’s Writing for Their Lives (The MIT Press) is a breathtaking history of America’s trail-blazing female science journalists—and the timely lessons they can teach us about equity, access, collaboration, and persistence.

Writing for Their Lives tells the stories of women who pioneered the nascent profession of science journalism from the 1920s through the 1950s. Like the “hidden figures” of science, such as Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson, these women journalists, Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette writes, were also overlooked in traditional histories of science and journalism. But, at a time when science, medicine, and the mass media were expanding dramatically, Emma Reh, Jane Stafford, Marjorie Van de Water, and many others were explaining theories, discoveries, and medical advances to millions of readers via syndicated news stories, weekly columns, weekend features, and books—and they deserve the recognition they have long been denied.

Grounded in extensive archival research and enlivened by passages of original correspondence, Writing for Their Lives addresses topics such as censorship, peer review, and news embargoes, while also providing intimate glimpses into the personal lives and adventures of mid-twentieth-century career women. They were single, married, or divorced; mothers with child-care responsibilities; daughters supporting widowed mothers; urban dwellers who lived through, and wrote about, the Great Depression, World War II, and the dawn of the Atomic Age—all the while, daring to challenge the arrogance and misogyny of the male scientific community in pursuit of information that could serve the public.

Written at a time when trust in science is at a premium, Writing for Their Lives is an inspiring untold history that underscores just how crucial dedicated, conscientious journalists are to the public understanding and acceptance of scientific guidance and expertise.

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian and Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Marcel has taught at the Johns Hopkins University, the George Washington University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of several books, including Science on the Air and Science on American Television. Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955 and Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century.

Elizabeth Quill is the executive editor for Science News. She has overseen efforts including the SN 10: Scientists to Watch and the Year in Review, and is the editorial coordinator for the Science News in High Schools program, which puts Science News and related resources into the hands of teachers and students at more than 4,000 high schools across the United States and worldwide.

She has edited special collections on topics ranging from consciousness to general relativity, and recently took a deep dive into the stories behind the periodic table of the elements. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York, Elizabeth studied journalism at Ithaca College and received her master’s degree in science writing from MIT. This is her second tour at Science News. She started her career there more than a decade ago and returned in 2015 after serving as the senior editor for science at Smithsonian magazine.

Books will be available for sale by East City Bookshop. A book signing will follow the discussion.



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Wednesday, September 6, 2023
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Event Categories:


921 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE
Washington, DC, 20003 United States
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