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

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

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Publication Date: August 22nd, 2023
The MIT Press
The MIT Press Bookstore
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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.

About the Author

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian. She is also Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the author of Science on the Air and Science on American Television.

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

Included in The Next Big Idea Club’s August 2023 Must-Read Books list

“LaFollette’s effort to discuss so many of the women who struggled against misogyny and discrimination is admirable. . . . Her meticulous research will be valuable to historians of women in journalism and science writers.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“Readers interested in science, journalism history, and women’s studies will find inspiration in learning more about these talented pioneers.”
Library Journal

"[An] important history. . . . Writing for Their Lives gives long-overlooked science journalists the attention they richly deserve."

"A compelling, important historical book that also reinforces how important science journalism is right now."
Book Riot

"Lafollette highlights not just the important work that these women performed but examines how their diverse backgrounds enhanced their science communication."

"Writing for Their Lives offers lively portraits of [LaFollette’s] subjects and provides solid source material for future women journalists and science writers."
Arts Fuse

“LaFollette is successful in her detailed account of the hidden figures of scientific journalism.”
Yale Scientific Magazine