22 Influential Women You Probably Didn't Learn About in School

Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia
Victoria Woodhull, Althea Gibson, Hypatia / Victoria Woodhull, Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images // Althea Gibson, AFP/AFP via Getty Images // Hypatia, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
9 of 20

10. Mary Somerville

It was in a review of Mary Somerville's popular book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, that the word scientist first appeared in print. In her book, Somerville, a Scottish polymath, describes the “hard” sciences—astronomy, physics, meteorology, and more—at an exciting stage in their development, when each field was becoming more specialized. Yet Somerville’s thesis unified the different disciplines into one great quest for knowledge—and when William Whewill was looking for a term to describe those seeking knowledge across different science disciplines in his review of Somerville's book, he proposed scientist. (He did not, however, coin it specifically for her, contrary to popular myth.)

The book was a best-seller, and Somerville, an almost entirely self-taught scientist and writer, became a celebrity, hobnobbing with the leading thinkers of the 19th century—even though, as a woman, she was barred from membership in the Royal Society. She also campaigned for women’s suffrage and against slavery. A friend once said of Somerville, “while her head is up among the stars, her feet are firm upon the earth.”