Brianna Hopkins was doing her fifth story in preparation for her upcoming interview with Henry Jacobs. In the stories she had written so far, she became fascinated with the motivations that lead to a discovery of talent. It seemed like adversity was a motivation for some, but she also expected that adversity was also so overwhelming for others that their talent was never realized to them.
Eunice Newton Foote was one of 12 children born to her parents Thirza and Isaac. Her father was a distant relative of THE Isaac Newton. She had a strong interest and talent for painting. As was custom at the time, she was not given the opportunity to go to college. She was known for her portraits. While she had a talent for painting, she was also interested in science.
She used her science interests to study the influence of sun rays on a variety of gases. She tried to identify the effects on hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and air. She found that carbon dioxide trapped the most heat. She also found that it took longer for cooling when the sun was removed. She postulated that a greater level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the temperature of the Earth. The year was 1856.
She prepared a paper to be delivered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). While women were in principle allowed to present papers at AAAS meetings, she asked a male colleague to present her paper. After the conference was over, the paper did receive some attention.
Three years after her paper was published and discussed, another researcher, John Tyndall, published a paper on the effect of carbon dioxide on atmosphere warming. Eunice’s paper was not cited. The reason for this overlook is unknown, but her talent went unrecognized. Tyndall’s work is now regarded as the foundational basis for climate research.
Why has Eunice Foote’s talent been largely ignored? Is it because of her gender, her lack of credentials, or the methodology she used? There can be a debate about her lack of acceptance, but one this is indisputable, Eunice Foote was the pioneering hero that began our concern for atmospheric warming over 150 years ago.
As Brianna reflected on Eunice’s story, she began to understand that the exercise of one’s talent is self-fulfilling. Rejection, discouragement, and even hostility cannot diminish one’s talent if that talent is linked to courage. Brianna began to realize that while discovering one’s talent is a worthy pursuit, it can also lead one to rejection.
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“Science is of no country and no sex. The sphere of women embraces not only the beautiful and the useful, but the true.”
– Professor John Henry of the Smithsonian Institution prior to presenting Eunice Foote’s paper to the American Association for the Advancement of Science