History of Scientific Women

Main achievements: Author of La Chymie Charitable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames.

Marie Meurdrac was a French chemist and alchemist born in Mandres-les-Roses, today a suburb of Paris. She was one of two daughters. In 1625 she married Henri de Vibrac, commander of Charles de Valois's guard unit. When she moved to the Château de Grosbois she came to know the Countess de Guiche, wife of Armand de Gramont, Comte de Guiche. The pair became very good friends and Meurdrac would later dedicate her chemistry treatise to the Countess. It is through this book that Meurdrac's name has survived to the present day and scholars have argued that this was the first work on chemistry by a woman since that of Maria the Jewess in the late classical period.

In 1656 Meurdrac published her famous treatise La Chymie Charitable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames (roughly "Useful and Easy Chemistry, for the Benefit of Ladies"). This work went through several editions in French (1666, 1674, 1680, 1687 and 1711) and was translated into German (four editions from 1673–1712) and Italian. The work which was approved by the regent masters of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris, focused on providing affordable treatments for the poor.

The work was divided up into six parts, part 1 focusing on principles and operations, vessels, lutes, furnaces, characteristics and weights. Part 2 was concerned with medical herbs and medicines made from such plants. Part 3 dealt with animals and Part 4 with Metals. Part 5 focused on making compound medicines and Part 6 was directed to a female audience and covered methods of preserving and increasing beauty. Meurdrac wrote in her introduction about her methods that "I have been very careful not to go beyond my knowledge, and I can assure that everything I teach is true, and that all my remedies have been tested; for which I praise and glorify God." (translation Bishop and DeLoach, 1970) In addition to the importance of her work in terms of female scientific endeavors, she has by some been seen as a proto-feminist. In her introduction Meurdrac outlines her "inner struggle" between the contemporary female ideal, which Meurdrac described as to be "silent, listen and learn, without displaying...knowledge". However she decides that "it would be a sin against Charity to hide the knowledge that God has given me, which may be of benefit to the world". Her eventual contribution of her works provided a foreshadowing of the paradigm shift that would later occur in the shift of alchemy to modern chemistry. Whether or not her work can be considered chemistry, Meurdrac directly contributed in a visible way that allowed for collaborative processes, and scrutiny, that would later define the field of modern chemistry and science as a whole.

Since the 1970s scholars have been discussing the nature of La Chymie Charitable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames, with some arguing that it is a work on alchemy rather than chemistry. Recently, Londa Shiebinger placed Meurdrac's La Chymie in the tradition of medical cookery books. La Chymie has many similarities to the libri de segreti, medical and cosmetic books made popular in Renaissance Italy which were occasionally authored by women.

Source: Wikipedia