In October 2015, the astronomer Geoff Marcy stepped down from his tenured professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, after Buzzfeed revealed that the university had found him guilty of sexually harassing undergraduate students over two decades. More recently, the California Institute of Technology suspended the astronomer Christian Ott for “gender-based harassment” after two Title IX complaints that graduate students had filed against him were judged valid. And in February, the molecular biologist Jason Lieb resigned from the University of Chicago after a committee investigating sexual misconduct charges concluded that he should be fired.
As these events have played out in very public ways, astronomers—and the broader scientific community—have begun talking more about how to foster a supportive, welcoming environment for female scientists. But although these issues are now being discussed in new ways, they are not new: Gender identity and sexual relations have long been key forces shaping scientific careers for both men and women.
In the 17th century, male astronomers and other scientists began to forge home-based models for producing scientific knowledge, conducting their research independent of universities. In doing so, they followed the pattern in the pre-industrial economy more generally, in which economic production was centered around the household, with all members of a family contributing to the business. In 17th-century London, for example, a printer would often run both a printing press and a retail book shop out of his home; his family members would participate in all aspects of the business, selling and printing books, keeping accounts, and managing apprentices and journeymen. In historical business records, these family members would become visible only when the patriarch died: Until then, it was his name that would typically stand on all the guild records and contracts.