STORIES FROM FRANCE

EMILIE DU CHÂTELET, SCHOLARLY MARQUISE AND WOMAN OF THE CENTURY OF ENLIGHTENMENT

“I would involve women in all human rights, especially the rights of the spirit. It seems that they were born to deceive, and this exercise is left only to their souls.”

-Emile Du Châtelet

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These words were written in the 18th century by Emile Du Châtelet, an extraordinary woman who was able to develop her intellectual qualities and impose herself in the exclusively male world of science.

Emilie du Châtelet, whose full name is Gabrielle Emile Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, was born an aristocrat on December 17, 1706, in Paris, at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment of which she was one of the leading figures. The daughter of an open-minded man who offered her an exceptional education for a woman of that era, she danced, played the harpsichord, learned Latin, Greek and German, was interested in fine dress, opera and, science. She married the Marquis Florent Claude du Châtelet, who seemed dazzled by her intelligence, and the two entered into a flexible relationship that left the Marquise du Châtelet free to spend time with the great men of her time, such as Bernoulli, and Voltaire.

She was passionate about physics and analysed Leibniz’s theoretical work on kinetic energy, which she illustrated with the help of experiments. Emilie du Châtelet wrote a physics treatise, published by the Academy of Sciences, a first for a woman.

She was interested in Newton’s work and began a translation of his Principia Mathématica one of the most important scientific books ever published, which became The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, published in 1756. This work was to be the only French translation, which is still the case today.

At the age of 43, Emilie du Châtelet died four days after the difficult birth of a daughter who did not survive.

MARIE-ANNE PIERRETTE PAULZE, THE MOTHER OF MODERN CHEMISTRY

Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, wife of Lavoisier, then Rumford, was born in Montbrison on January 20, 1758 and died in Paris on February 10, 1836. She was a French scientist, painter and illustrator.

She was the wife and collaborator of the chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794).

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Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze is the daughter of the general farmer Jacques-Alexis Paulze. She lost her mother when she was only three years old. Her father then decided to send her to the Visitation convent in Montbrison, so that she could receive the classical education of a young girl from the upper bourgeoisie. It was there that she forged her character, taking a special interest in science and drawing. At the age of 13, Marie-Anne married Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, a general farmer known as the founder of modern chemistry and respiratory physiology.

The couple had no children. This circumstance perhaps explains the exclusive devotion that Marie-Anne and Antoine devoted to each other during their union. She was a precious companion for her husband and collaborated in his scientific work by translating various publications into French and by drawing all the plates illustrating his “Elementary Chemical Treaty” published in 1789.

In particular, she took numerous notes and drawings of their experiments, which enabled them to disseminate their discoveries, which were none other than the precepts of modern chemistry.