Women Scientists in Pre-Statehood Israel

In 2009, Israeli scientist Ada Yonath became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 45 years. Her success drew international attention to Israel and the issues surrounding women in science.

Following her last month’s presentation at UCLA titled “Models of Work-Family Balance in the Lives of Israeli Women Scientists“,  WCSG member Pnina Abir-Am provided the group with an overview on women scientists during the first decade of Israeli statehood, discussing the under-representation of women in science, societal difficulties in supporting work-family balance, and how statehood affected women scientists’ career and personal choices.


Weizmann Institute of Science‘s Ada Yonath, 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Photo: Wikipedia

Summarizing the presentation, Rajashree wrote:

Despite braving a time crunch and technical issues, Pnina’s talk on women scientists in the first decade of Israel’s statehood was eye opening. Esther Herlinger, Anna Weizmann, Ora Kedem and Pnina Elson were remarkable contributors to science and technology and could not be dismissed as just names. Pnina drew our attention to the context and historical and political landscape in which they operated. The challenges of women achievers are globally acknowledged but the particular experiences of these women were certainly rooted in Israel’s political and cultural ambitions. She also spoke about what contributed to these women’s achievements was that they belonged to families who were professionally vested in the sciences. This made me think of Bourdieu’s “cultural capital” and the family endowments that serve as key determinants of educational probabilities. It seemed like there was so much more to know and learn but thank you Pnina for leading us on the path to seeking out more. I, for one am grateful for your shedding light on the context and that part of Israel’s history that does not often get shared.