The Year Of The STEM Candidate
A total of 24 men and women with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ran for Congress this year in the United States mid-term elections, of which an unparalleled seven women won a seat in the House. Congratulations to Chrissy Houlahan, Lauren Underwood, Elaine Luria, Kim Schrier, Eddie Johnson, Lizzie Fletcher and Jacky Rosen for representing the scientific community so well.
What better time to introduce an early pioneer in the field, Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier.
She was the wife of Antoine Lavoisier, who is lauded today as the founder of modern chemistry. He realized shortly after he married Marie-Anne that she could be a valuable asset to his work and encouraged her participation in his studies. Marie-Anne played a vital role in his success, acting as his laboratory companion and contributor to his work.
Antoine had a large influence on both the history of chemistry and the history of biology. His work was central to the 18thcentury chemical revolution.
His greatest accomplishments stem from his changing the science from a qualitative to a quantitative one. Noted for figuring out how the role oxygen plays in combustion, he recognized and named oxygen in 1778, hydrogen in 1783 and opposed the phlogiston theory. Lavoisier helped construct the metric system, wrote the first extensive list of elements and helped reform chemical nomenclature. By his side during all his accomplishments was his wife, Marie-Anne, who served as his notetaker, translator, and artist.
Marie-Anne’s life reads somewhat like a romance novel. She was born in Loire, France in 1758. When her mother died, Marie-Anne was only three years old. Her father, a French parliamentary lawyer and financier, placed Marie-Anne in a convent where she received a formal education. When she was only thirteen, she attracted the attention of a 50-year-old count. Her father attempted to object to the union, but was threatened by a loss of his job should he object too strenuously. Instead, he made an offer of his daughter’s hand to one of his colleagues, who graciously accepted the marriage contract. Antoine Lavoisier was 28-years-old and Marie-Anne thirteen when they married in 1771.
Lavoisier continued his work alongside Marie-Anne’s father in the Ferme-Generale, but in 1775, he received an appointment as gunpowder administrator and the couple settled in Paris. Soon after this move, Marie-Anne’s interest in her husband’s work picked up and she became an active participant in her husband’s laboratory work. They spent most of their time together in the lab, working as a team on a variety of experiments. Marie-Anne kept meticulous notes on their progress and received formal scientific training herself from two of Lavoisier’s colleagues. Her diagrams of her husband’s designs were enhanced by her training from renowned painter Jacques-Louis David. Her precise drawings of the experimental apparatuses helped Lavoisier’s contemporaries understand his methods and their results.
In 1794, at the height of the French Revolution, both Antoine Lavoisier and Marie-Anne’s father, Jacques Paulze, were put to death on the same day due to their prominent positions in the Ferme-Generale. Bitter, angry and destitute, Marie-Anne nonetheless arranged for the final compilation of her husband’s papers. She was eventually able to recover nearly all of Lavoisier’s notebooks and his chemical apparatuses, most of which now reside in a collection at Cornell University. Her great love for Antoine, and her determination that he occupy his rightful place in history, kept her going after his untimely death. Her efforts on his behalf secured his place in the field of chemistry.
Marie-Anne remarried in 1804, but the marriage was short-lived, in part because she refused to give up the name of Lavoisier. She died suddenly in 1836, at the age of 78. Her contribution to science and her translations of works from English to French helped standardize the scientific method.
There are several books available on Antoine Lavoisier, the founder of modern chemistry. But his legacy wouldn’t have been available without the support and care of Marie-Anne.
Becky Lower never made it to a class in chemistry. Once she experienced the volcano erupting with baking soda, her interest in the subject waned. But she has great admiration for those with a scientific mind and recently learned how to hybridize roses for her Regency book, Winning Violet, the first in the Flower Girl series. Check out all her books here: https://www.beckylowerauthor.com