Author: Ibon Cancio, UPV/EHU Associated Professor in Cell Biology; researcher in the ‘Cell Biology & Environmental Toxicology’ (CBET) research group of the Plentzia Marine Station (PiE-UPV/EHU); Spanish scientific representative in the EMBRC Committee of Nodes
Today, for International Women's Day, we feature Ida Hydes, a woman who brought other women to the 'scientific table'. But before we jump into her life and impact, a bit of context on the role of women in ocean sciences and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (SZN) working tables, which proved to be a significant part of Hyde's contribution.
UNESCO, in its Global Ocean Science Report published in 2017, revealed that there is a stronger representation of women in ocean research than in overall research. Taking together all the possible disciplines of ocean science, 38% of employed researchers were female. This was 10% higher employment rate than the average of the rest of scientific disciplines worldwide. In marine sciences, women are especially represented in human health and well-being research, where representation is close to parity. It would appear that life as a marine scientist has not been as difficult for women as it has been for them in other scientific fields.
One historical factor facilitating the inclusion of women into marine sciences has arguably been the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (SZN) 'working tables'. These tables, which were rented out on an annual basis to governments, regions, universities, scientific associations, and other groups/individuals internally, promoted the pilgrimage of marine biology researchers to Naples, one of whom was Ida Henrietta Hyde (1857-1945). She was an American biologist and the third woman to access a working table at SZN, using the one rented by the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
Ida Hyde initiated her grade studies at the age of 31 at Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania) with a grant for students with economic difficulties. She collaborated with two of the greatest biologists of all times: Jacques Loeb and Thomas Hunt Morgan. Her post-graduation work, plus a grant from the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women) would allow her a research stay in Europe at the University of Strasburg with professor Goette. From there, she would move to Heidelberg for her doctoral studies on the physiological development of jellyfish. This would be the first PhD ever awarded in experimental sciences to a woman in Heidelberg. She was already 39 years old, symbolising the difficulties met by woman in pursuit of a scientific and academic career. It was 1886 when she carried out research at SZN (on the physiology of the salivary glands of octopus) and fell in love with her Naples scientific and intellectual experience, 'offered to men and women alike'. She returned to the US with the deeply rooted goal of facilitating the inclusion of other American women in similar research opportunities and experiences.
In this way, the 'Naples Table Association for Promoting Scientific Research by Women' (NTA) was created with contributions from associations such as the 'Women’s Education Association' and different American universities and donors. The Naples association funded research opportunities for more than 40 female American researchers from 1897 to 1933, one of whom was Nettie M. Stevens (1861-1912). Dr Stevens made use of the Naples table to collaborate with Theodor Boveri, father of the chromosome theory. Her first visit was in 1901 and second in 1908. She was the discoverer, although in non-marine arthropods, of sex chromosomes in 1905.
Many of the researchers that enjoyed a stay in Naples would later become lecturers in women’s colleges: Mary Willcox at Wellesley and Vassar; Florence Peebles at Byrn Mawr and Goucher; Emily Ray Gregory at Wells College and American College for Girls in Constantinopla; Cornelia Clapp at Mount Holyoke; Nettie M. Stevens at Bryn Mawr. NTA also initiated an award for the best research work published by a woman of any nationality. The award, renamed the 'Ellen Richards Research Prize' after 1911, was given only six times and to well-respected British and American scientists: Florence Sabin (1903), Nettie Stevens (1905), Florence Buchanan (1910), Ida Smedley MacLean (1915), Eleanor E. Carothers (1921) and Mary E. Laing (1924).
Hyde, upon returning to USA, was the first woman ever to work in a laboratory of the Zoology department at the University of Harvard, specifically on the nerve distribution in mollusc eyes, and starting in 1905 she directed the Department of Physiology at the University of Kansas. She always complained that her salary there was lower than that of her male colleagues. Hyde worked repeatedly in the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole beginning in 1891, generally on the nervous system of the jellyfish Goneomea murbachii. She also developed a micro-electrode for the stimulation of tissues chemically or electronically, which was small enough for the application of the study of single cells. Developments of that system would later allow important advances in neurophysiological research and when applied in the giant axon of the squid, such studies resulted in the Nobel prizes in medicine of 1963 and 1970.
Hyde relayed her ordeal of becoming a scientist in a short autobiographic account of her beginnings in science in Germany under the title 'Before women were human beings'. This is a must-read for anybody, but specially for young girls unable to decide whether to initiate a career in sciences. Let today be a tribute to all women, mainly to those in marine science! Congratulations to all of you on your Day, the International Day of Women!