Opublikował/a: Krystyna Makowska
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The role of women in the development of neuroscience in Poland

Krystyna Makowka1, Sławomir Gonkowski2

Department of Clinical Diagnostics, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland
2 Department of Clinical Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland
The project is supported by European History of Neuroscience Online Projects 2021, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies.

In 1900 the German neurologist Paul Julius Möbius published the book untitled “Über den physiologischen Schwachsinn des Weibes" (“On the Physiological Idiocy of Women"), in which he was proving that women are “individuals intermediate between the child and man” with naturally smaller brains than men, which translates into their general disability, affecting every aspect of life and activity. Interestingly, in spite of the fact that in the times of Mobius there were wonderful, women – scientists (eg Maria Skłodowska-Curie), the thesis contained in his book has been recognized.


Paul Julius Möbius “Über den physiologischen Schwachsinn des Weibes"


Today, fortunately we know that thesis in the book of Möbius were utter nonsense, and the history of science is full of wonderful women, who were characterized by intelligence, scientific inquisitiveness and extraordinary diligence. In spite of the fact that for long times women had more difficult conditions than men to make their mark in the science, they often have significantly contributed to the development of the knowledge. This situation has also placed in Poland, which in the 19th and at the beginning of the twentieth century was under foreign partition, and after the second world war was under the influence of Soviet Union. In spite of these difficult conditions, a lot of women who worked as neuroscientists and made important discoveries lived in Poland. Their names are not well known in Europe, and yet they certainly deserve wide publicity and our appreciation.

The prevailing social norms in the world at that time, as well as the legal solutions of the partitioning countries, meant that the first female researchers had a much more difficult start than their colleagues. Before 1918, women did not have voting rights, were not able to study, and usually lived "with their husbands" or worked as nurses or teachers. Many career paths were closed to them. They were under constant fire from public opinion and were constantly confronted with ideas about the role of women in society. And in these imaginations there was absolutely no room for intellectual work, scientific research, experiments in laboratories or performances in lecture halls. They also had little chance of obtaining prestigious positions in scientific structures. Despite this, there are a number of women researchers who, out of fascination with science, have undertaken this difficult task of being pioneers. Despite the reality surrounding them, they did their job, they worked in science, for science, for progress, for humanity.

In 1906, the first legal Congress of Women was held in Krakow, during which the writer Zofia Nałkowska openly advocated "the liberation of women towards humanity by granting her public rights." The main limitation was the lack of access to higher education. Ambitious women had to go abroad to study. This required a lot of courage, especially considering the lack of junior high schools for girls in Poland, which made it impossible to obtain the high school leaving exam. Foreign universities turned a blind eye to the lack of formal secondary education, but they were not always so open. Despite this, many women decided to study away from the country. They were the ones who later won the first positions in independent Poland.