Popularising science

Meet some women popularisers who changed our reception of science.

Discover the secret histories of two women who brought science to a large audience. Be inspired by their inventiveness, tenacity and innovations through the Royal Society collections.

Cover of A Short History of Natural Science (1888) by Arabella Burton Buckley (1840-1929)The Royal Society


Many women pioneered the expanding field of scientific education through the nineteenth century. As public understanding of science had become of increasing importance since Mary Somerville's original contribution to the field, several women published books of 'popular science' which made innovations and discoveries accessible to a larger audience.

Frontispiece and title page of The Fairy-land of Science by Arabella Buckley (1879) by Arabella Burton Buckley (1840-1929)The Royal Society

Arabella Buckley (later Fisher, 1840-1929) was secretary and assistant to the geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875). Her own work, as a writer of popular science, was remarkable.

First page of The Fairy land of science (1879) by Arabella Burton Buckley (1840-1929)The Royal Society

In this book for children, she had the aim of transforming science’s bundle of dry facts into all that is beautiful, and full of poetry and imagination.

Front cover of 'Episodes of insect life' (1850) by L.M. Budgen (fl.1850s)The Royal Society

Writing under the pseudonym Acheta Domestica (the house cricket) L. Budgen produced natural history books in a popular, anecdotal style, with humour and high-Victorian illustrations.

Illustration of butterflies by L.M. Budgen from Episodes of Insect Life (1849) by L.M. BudgenThe Royal Society

Very little is known of Budgen beyond her publications.

The ability to both entertain and educate was a key area of expertise for nineteenth-century women writers.

Title page for the Guide to methods of insect life (1884) by Eleanor Anne Ormerod (1828-1901)The Royal Society

In contrast to L.M. Budgen’s work on insects, Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901) wrote intensely practical treatises aimed at agriculturalists.

Aspidiotus zonatus (c. 1900) by Robert Newstead (1859-1947)The Royal Society

Ormerod was an important figure in the nascent field of economic entomology, with a national network of information-gathering contacts on insect pests.

She was the subject of a memoir by Virginia Woolf, Miss Ormerod (1924).

These are the stories of some early women who made science available to all. Discover more inspiring women pioneers from our collections.

Credits: Story

All rights reserved © The Royal Society 2019

For more information about the Royal Society Library and Archive please visit our website: https://royalsociety.org/collections

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps