Female Alchemists

 

Female alchemist remained in the shadows and still risked losing everything if they were discovered, yet many managed to survive far beyond the grave. Here are a few famed alchemists who made it into the history books and happened to be ladies.

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Engraving depicting Mary the Jewess from Michael Maier‘s book Symbola Aurea Mensae Duodecim Nationum (1617).

Mary the Jewess (also known as Miriam the Prophetess) first appeared in the works of the Gnostic Christian writer Zosimos of Panopolis. Maria lived between the first and third centuries A.D. and is credited with the invention of several kinds of chemical apparatus and considered to be the first true alchemist of the Western world.

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Cleopatra the Alchemist who was likely alive during the 3rd century, was an Egyptian alchemist, author, and philosopher. She experimented with practical alchemy but is also rumored to be one of the four female alchemists that could produce a Philosopher’s stone.

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Marie le Jars de Gourney lived from 1565 to 1645 in France and tried to become a woman of letters, but became an alchemist instead. She managed to get access to a furnace and divided her time between her laboratory and writing against repression of women.

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Marie Meudrac lived in the mid-1600s in France. She wrote La Chymie Chritable et Facile, en Faveur des Dames, describing her experiments and alchemy. She was self-taught and was a teacher to female students in her lab. She believed that the mind has no sex and that men and women could attain equal achievements through education, and was a particular advocate for womens achievement in the sciences. She also distributed the medicine she created to the poor.

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Unfortunately, not all female alchemists were so lucky.

Martine de Bertereau du Chatelet lived in the early 1600s in France. She published two works on the science of mining, the different kinds of mines, the assaying of ores and the divers method[s] of smelting them, as well as the general principles of metallurgy. In 1642, she was imprisoned for witchcraft and died in jail that year.

See a bibilogrpahy of publications featuring women in alchemy.

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