The Other Physicists

The stories of women in the history of physics are few and far between. And apart from an exceptional few like Marie Curie or Lise Meitner, women are rarely written into the larger history; very often their stories are treated as exceptions to the norm. But what happens if we move the study of women from the periphery to the center of the history of physics? Although it has some commonalities, a history of women in physics has many differences from a history of physics dominated by men. Different institutions, like women’s colleges, become much more important. And different labor practices set the tone.

In my dissertation, The Other Physicists, I unearth a longstanding and active community of women in physics by examining the intersection of gender, physics, and higher education at colleges and universities in the United States. My historical analysis focuses on women’s colleges in the period 1870-1940. At these colleges women congregated to learn, teach, and work in physics. Each chapter is organized along the lines of the life cycle of the female physicist before World War II – including chapters on their undergraduate, graduate, and occupational experiences.

In the course of my research into this project, I have compiled a list of 275+ female physicists who were active in the United States prior to WWII. I hope to make this information publicly accessible in the future. For more information or to suggest an individual for the list, you can email me at joanna.behrman [at]

In progress: Sections of a history of the Johns Hopkins University Physics Department. Christine Wenc, ed.

In progress: Joanna Behrman. “Practitioners” in A Cultural History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. Arne Schirrmacher, ed. Bloomington Academic.

“Portrait of a Groundbreaking Astronomer,” Book Review of Jacqueline Mitton and Simon Mitton. “Vera Rubin: A Life.” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021. 320 pp.) Science 371, no. 6531 (19 Feb 2021): 788. DOI: 10.1126/science.abg1818

Book Review of Donovan Moore. “What Stars Are Made Of: The Life of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020. 320 Pp.) History of Education Quarterly 61, no. 1 (2021): 106–8. doi:10.1017/heq.2020.69.

Joanna Behrman. “The Personal is Professional: Margaret Maltby’s Life in Physics.” In Biographies in the History of Physics: Actors, Objects, and Organizations, 37-57. Christian Forstner, Dieter Hoffmann, and Mark Walker eds. Heidelberg: Springer, 2020. <>.

J. F. Behrman. “Manuals, Handbooks, and Recipes,” in Between Making and Knowing: Tools in Materials Research, 73-82. Cyrus Mody and Joseph Martin, eds. Encyclopedia of the Development and History of Materials Science. World Scientific Publishing Company, 2020. <>.

Joanna Behrman. “Domesticating Physics.” Physics Today 71, no. 5 (May 2018). Featured cover article. <>. [peer-reviewed]

Joanna Behrman. “Domesticating Physics: Introductory Physics Textbooks for Women in Home Economics in the United States, 1914-1955.” History of Education 46, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 193-209. <>. [peer-reviewed]

E.C. Behrman, R.E.F. Bonde, J.E. Steck, and J.F. Behrman, “On the Correction of Anomalous Phase Oscillation in Entanglement Witnesses Using Quantum Neural Networks,” IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks and Learning Systems. Vol. 25, No 9, September 2014. <>. [peer-reviewed]

Online and Outreach Publications

“New Web Exhibit on the Research Vessel Vema.” History of Oceanography, Official Website and Blog of the International Commission of the History of Oceanography (19 November 2021).

“Inaugural Helleman Fellows Selected.” American Institute of Physics History Newsletter (Fall 2021), 24-25.

“Featured Oral History Interview – Benjamin Peery, Jr.” American Institute of Physics History Newsletter (Fall 2021), 8-10.

“Photos of the Month: Back to School.” Ex Libris Universum, Blog of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics (14 September 2021).

“Optimism and Other Poems: A Deep Dive into an NBLA Acquisition.” Ex Libris Universum, Blog of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics (13 April 2021).

“Book or Movie? Reviewing Book & Movie Pairs for Women’s History Month.” Ex Libris Universum, Blog of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics (10 March 2021).

“Welcome Message from the Assistant Public Historian.” American Institute of Physics History Newsletter 52, no. 2 (Fall 2020), 10-11.

“Remembering Trinity, Seventy-Five Years Later.” Ex Libris Universum, Blog of the Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics (10 July 2020).

“Optimism and Other Physicists.” American Institute of Physics History Newsletter 52, no. 1 (Spring 2020), 8-9. <>

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