Pink Science, '50s-Style in Slate

Courtesy of Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections. Photograph by Gregory Tobias.

November 13, 2012 - Philadelphia, PA


Here’s a fun game: trawl Amazon looking for offensively girly science kits designed for young ladies. Marvel at Scientific Explorer Spa ScienceWild Science Perfect Perfume Laboratory, or Scientific Explorer Heavenly Hair. Even the science kit appears to have fallen prey to the merciless tyranny of princess culture.

At first glance, this pink microscope set, which was marketed by New Haven-based toymaker A.C. Gilbert Company in 1958, might seem to be a grandmother to these contemporary kits.

The set, which is preserved in the Chemical Heritage Foundation's collection of chemistry sets, is a product of post-WWII anxiety over the nation’s lack of what was called “scientific manpower.” Having seen what a difference science made in the war (the bomb, radar, penicillin), and realizing that the amount of work to be done in labs and industrial R&D was limitless, Americans worried that insufficient numbers of young people wanted to be scientists. Some called for young women to be included in recruitment efforts. Women had been largely shut out of scientific careers up until that point. But they had a major point in their favor: They were undraftable. If girls got the right training, future wartime labs could be staffed by women, who were naturally bound to the homefront ....


Courtesy of Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections. Photograph by Gregory Tobias.

Link to Slate for full article.

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