“Conversations” – Science Books by Jane Marcet

Jane Marcet

Jane Haldimand Marcet

Jane Haldimand Marcet was a British writer of popular science books. Born on Jan 1, 1769, she was one of twelve children and tutored at home with her brothers. She took over the running of the household when her mother died in 1785.

In 1799, Jane married Alexander Gaspard Marcet, a Swiss physician and through him she had contact with leading scientists of the day and was able to attend lectures. Jane and Alexander had three children and in addition to raising them and keeping house, she helped to proof her husband’s books.

At some point Jane decided to write her own books. Called “Conversations,” she wrote them as a dialogue between two female students and their teacher, Mrs. Bryant. She explained science and economics in language that students and adults could understand, popularizing the work of people such as Humphry Davy, Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

Her first book, written after attending the lectures of Sir Humphry Davy, summarized and popularized his work. It was published in 1805, anonymously, as Conversations on Chemistry. Other works followed including, Conversations on Natural Philosophy in 1819 and Conversations on Political Economy in 1824.

There were few original ideas in her work, but she helped to bridge the gap between great scientific thinkers of the day and the public. Although originally intended for children, they were appreciated by adults as well, especially women who weren’t usually encouraged to study science. According to Elizabeth Morse in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Marcet’s Conversations on Chemistry also inspired one of the scientific greats of the time, Michael Faraday.

Find out what else happened on June 28 in Women’s History.

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