Al Raddi's Blog

09 Mar 2020

The Underappreciated Elizabeth Fulhame

National Coin Week | Al Raddi

In the social sciences, a catalyst is a person or event that hastens a change. And many catalysts have been women. For example, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, progressive reformer Jane Addams founded settlement houses and was the catalyst that hastened a change in the way poor industrialized workers were treated and created the profession of social work.

The use of the word "catalyst" in social sciences derives from its more specific use in chemistry. In chemistry a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change. And the person who discovered that chemical process of catalysis was a woman.

Elizabeth Fulhame was an 18th century Scottish chemist who was interested in finding ways to stain cloth with gold and silver. And through the many reduction experiments she conducted and recorded in her 1794 book An Essay On Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dying and Painting, wherein the Phlogistic and Antiphlogistic Hypotheses are Proved Erroneous, she discovered the process which would later be called "catalysis" by Jons Jakob Berzelius.

In the Introduction to her book to her book, Mrs. Fulhame, as she was identified on the title page, forcefully forecast:

"some are so ignorant, that they grow sullen and silent, and are chilled with horror at the sight of any thing that bears the semblance of learning, in whatever shape it may appear; and should the spectre appear in the shape of woman, the pangs which they suffer are truly dismal."

Her book was favorably reviewed in Great Britain and later republished in Germany and America, and her experiments were referenced and replicated in the following decades. However, Elizabeth Fulhame's work (which also contributed to the creation of photography) has been largely absent from the history of science.



Level 5

I saw a piece last night on the PBS series "American Experience, The Great War". Part 1 was about our beginning neutrality in WWI. Jane Addams was briefly mentioned for her leadership in the pacifist movement. Though she had some good ideas about bringing the war to a close, she couldn' t stop the inevitability of us entering the war in 1917.

Al Raddi

Level 4

As a retired social worker, I'm very proud that Jane Addams, who founded my profession, won a Nobel Prize for promoting peace.


Level 7

You know I believe that everyone could write about a woman . That alone tells you the strides they have made. Great blog. They have fought for everything they have made that woman never had. I always said next to every good man stands a good woman..


Level 6

Another interesting story of an accomplished Woman. I hope the ANA doesn't just judge these but also compiles them all into a presentation for our YNs.


Level 5

It is nice when I learn something new. Good blog.


Level 5

Interesting history. Amazing to be doing this back in the late 1700's. Learned something new for sure. Thanks for posting.


Level 6

Nice blog. I learned today. I love her quote. Thanks...Great photos.

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