Russian women at the beginning of human genetics

  • Roman Fando S. I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Keywords: women geneticists, formation of medical genetics, gender history, 1920-1930

Abstract

This paper reviews the studies on human genetics, carried out by Russian women in the 1920s and 1930s. Its main objective is to determine the contribution of women scientists to the development of different fields of human genetics. Particular attention is given to reconstructing women geneticists’ research work, reviewing the content of their publications, and analysing the theoretical and methodological approaches they employed to tackle different scientific problems. The biographies of the pioneers in Russian “anthropogenetics” (knowledge of human heredity), R. I. Serebrovskaya, G. V. Soboleva, and N. N. Malkova, were restored on the basis of archival sources. The first women geneticists received their higher education at the Higher Women’s Courses, as, in the Russian Empire, it was prohibited for women to study at the universities. These women came into genetics from traditional biological sciences or medicine at the time when human genetics as a discipline began to emerge in Russia in the 1920s. The first works in the field of anthropogenetics, conducted by these women on their own, began to appear in 1923. By the mid ‒ 1920s, women geneticists began to use genealogical and twin methods for studying human heredity extensively. The number of women’s publications peaked in the late 1920s. Studies in the field of population genetics and medical genetics gained popularity and new biochemical and cytological methods of analysis were added to the repertoire of analytical techniques. In the 1930s, with the beginning of attacks on eugenics, studies in human genetics were rapidly wound down to be completely arrested by the 1940s. The results of the studies carried out by the Russian women anthropogeneticists in the 1920s ‒ 1930s included demonstrating hereditary nature of premature graying (R. I. Serebrovskaya), hemorrhagic diathesis and inguinal hernia (N. N. Malkova), deaf-mutism and stutter (G. V. Soboleva); determining the incidence of different genes in the populations; organizing large-scale twin studies to elucidate the role of heredity and environment in the manifestation of psychological traits; and introducing new methods for hereditary disease diagnostics and the effective practices for teaching preschool and school age children.

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Published
2020-06-05
How to Cite
Fando , R. (2020). Russian women at the beginning of human genetics. History of Science and Technology, 10(1(16), 110-126. https://doi.org/10.32703/2415-7422-2020-10-1(16)-110-126