Women of History: Saruhashi Katsuko

This week we travel to modern Japan.  Katsuko Saruhashi was a Japanese geochemist and became known for creating the tools to test for Co2 levels in water.  This lead to the discovery of radioactive fallout in the waters around Japan after the 1954 Bikini Atoll nuclear tests.

Katsuko was born on March 22, 1920 in Tokyo, Japan.  As a child she became interested in the dynamics of rain and water, and it would be an interest that would drive her career.  There is not much available from online sources about her childhood, but her career has a lot more out there.

She graduated with a degree in chemistry from the Imperial Women’s College of Science, which would later become Toho University.  She started a career in research at the Meteorological Research Institute.  It had a geochemical laboratory, which she would become the executive director of eventually.

While she started her research, she also continued her studies.  She graduated with a doctorate in 1957 from the University of Tokyo. She made history for the university becoming the first women to graduate with a Doctorate in Chemistry.

Her main study was the carbon dioxide levels in seawater. It was a relatively new area of study, and she was forced to improvise in her methods.  She developed methodologies and tools to be used with the study. Eventually she discovered that sea water has 60% more carbon dioxide then the air above it and gives off twice as much as it absorbs.  Her paper, published in 1955, would serve as the basis of oceanography study for three decades when it came to carbonic acid measurements, and aided to the developing understanding of climate change and global warming.

She became involved in another ocean related study in the late 1950s, when the Japanese government asked the laboratory to conduct tests on the radioactivity of the water surrounding the Bikini Atoll testing site.

In March of 1954, the United States completed “Operation Castle” which was a series of high-yield nuclear tests to develop aircraft viable nuclear weapons.  The sites for this operation were held across several Islands in Marsha Islands, particularly Bikini Atoll where there were 3 test sites. Atolls were islands made from volcanic rock receding leaving a coral reef remains, surrounding a lagoon.  They often appear as small circles of land around a center water area.  Several of reefs above ground become small islands to make up the atoll.

One test, known as Castle Bravo, detonated twice its predicted yields, and ended up contamination several nearby islands, as well as US Soldiers stationed in the area and a Japanese fishing boat known as the Daigo Fukuryu Maru.  One person died as a direct result of the test, but many continued to have health problems.  This brought the test to the Japanese government’s attention.

The tests and research the lab did proved that the fall out of radioactive activity did not simply affect the immediate area of the incident.  The fall out could travel via the ocean and air.   It was the first study of its kind.  They continued to watch the waters till into the 1970s, finding that the radioactive particles from Bikini Atoll had reached the other side of the Pacific Ocean.  This test and those that followed helped the push for a Test Ban Treaty, limiting the fall out of radioactive bomb testing.

However, her results weren’t always trusted.  Several times the fact that she was female, and because she was not an American, her studies were questioned.  However she succeeded to prove her scientific discoveries again and again, earning her the respect she was already due.

In 1979, Katusko was named the executive director of the Geochemical Laboratory.  She continued to investigate water chemistry, focusing on acid rain and its effects.

Over her years as a scientist, she won many awards. She was able to establish the Society of Japanese Women Scientists (1958) to promote women in the sciences.  After her retirement in 1980, she took a gift of 5 million yen and used it to establish an organization looking for the future of women scientists.  It was called the Association for the Bright Future of Women Scientists. In 1981, she established an award in her own name known as the Saruhashi Prize, which was given to a female scientist whose studies are in the natural sciences who has been a good role model for younger women scientists. 37 women have received the award since its inception.  In the further reading section, I’ve included a link to a page on Wikipedia that lists the recipients.  Several have their own pages and it’s a good start to researching women in science in Japan.

Saruhashi Katusko died on September 29, 2007.  Her image appeared this year as a Google Doodle on what would have been her 98th birthday.  She left behind a legacy of science, and of determination to see that other women could achieve the success that she found.

A quote I have found in various sources seems to show her view:

“There are many women who have the ability to become great scientists. I would like to see the day when women can contribute to science & technology on an equal footing with men.”

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Saruhashi Katsuko

Newsweek: Who was Katsuko Saruhashi?

Wikipedia: Operation Castle

Wikipedia: Bikini Atoll

Wikipedia: Sarahashi Prize

Japanese Femist Debates: A Life Story of Sarauhashi Katsuko – Sumiko Hatakeyama

A to Z of Women in Science in Math – Lisa Yount

 

(writer’s note:  I found that there was a lack of variety of sources for this particular feature with the time I had for researching.  I, like always, suggest doing some research on your own on the women you find interesting.  )

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Women of History: Kim Seondeok

Author’s Note:  This post is posted late due to some editing process issues.  The next post will be posted tomorrow on schedule.

This week we travel to Korea, during the 7th Century. Our featured Women of History is Queen Seondeok of Silla, a kingdom of Korea.

Seondeok was born Princess Deokmen, the daughter of King Jinpyeong and Queen Maya. Her birthdate is not a sure fact, but it is suspected to be at the very end of the 6th century to early end of the 7th century. She had two sisters, Princess Cheonmyeong and Seonhwa. At this point in their kingdom’s history, there had not been a female ruler of the kingdom. Women were involved in governing and held roles of power but it was limited. Her grandmother, Queen Sado, had once ruled as regent for her grandfather for example. Yet no women had been Queen Regnant (Queen in her own right, rather than representing someone else).

When the time came for Jinpyeong to choose a successor, he leaned towards his son-in-law Kim Yongsu. Yongsu was married to Cheonmyeong. He was the second cousin of the King, and thus a member of the bone rank of Seonggol (Sacred Bone).

The bone rank system was based on lineage, and was very rigid in nature. A person’s status or rank would determine everyday life. This included a person’s occupation and sometimes even clothing choices. There were three main ranks. Seonggol was the highest and included the royal family. Lesser royals and ministers were part of the Jingol (true bone) rank. The lowest rank was the head rank (Tupum) and included most of the rest of the population. Tupum divided into 6 subclasses. The lower 3 classes were that of the lower class. The Aristocracy were the higher 3 classes. One’s rank determined your place in society. It determined who you could socialize with, who you could marry and what type of housing you got. Higher ranks had clothing restrictions as well. Seondeok herself was a member of the Seonggol rank as had all the royals at this point.

Yongsu seemed an acceptable heir to a man with no sons. Seondeok had taken an interest in governing and had asked her father to prove herself. Jinpyeong decided to give her the opportunity. Seondeok proved herself, but she was still not without detractors. Despite Yongsu conceding and even taking the lower rank of jingol, it was not an easy transition. A rebellion against her was thorted before it beg

In 632, Seondeok was given the crown and the name change, becoming the first female ruler of Silla on her own right. She immediately got to work, with grand plans for her people and her country. She sent out inspectors to oversee the people’s welfare and gave tax breaks for the peasant class. She built Cheomseongdae, one of the oldest astronomy towers. She also sent yearly emissaries to Tang China to improve foreign relations. Emperor Taizang Tang would not recognise her, believeing women were ineffective rulers. It would be three years before he would change his mind.

Seondeok’s interest in foreign affairs was an important part of her legacy. Through alliances and strategy, she expanded the borders of her Kingdom. Her kingdom would one day cover a good deal of the Korean Peninsula.

At the start of her reign, Silla was located in the southeast corner of South Korea. The capital of Silla was Gyeongju, which is located not too far inland from the coast.. Over the course of her reign, as well as that of her successors, the boundaries of Silla morphed and changed. It would go from a small confederation at the southern half of Korea to ruling most of it.

The kingdom of Baekje invaded the country in 642, ten years into Seondeok’s reign. At first they were successful, capturing cities and castles on the western border. Seondeok sought the advice of a buddhist monk named Jajang about what to do to protect her people. She took his advice and created a pagoda called Hwangnyongsa along the border. She even offered to use the materials of her own palace if it would help calm the fears of her countrymen. It was to be both a religious center as well as a military post to watch for invaders. The pagoda was nine stories, meant to represent her ‘enemies’ with various depictions. Unfortunately the pagoda was burned down by invaders in 1238.

It was only the growing power of Goguryeo, the third Kingdom of Korea, that caused Emperor Tiazong to change his mind. This alliance was enough to help her forces drive back the forces of Baekje (which became a part of Silla) and Goguryeo(who lost territory to Silla). Silla held a good deal of the territory of Korea and eventually even separated their alliance with Tiazong. This would be an ongoing problem during her reign as the borders shifted back and forth between the warring kingdoms.

Yet, it was not to be easy for Queen Seondeok even domestically. In 647, she fell ill. Her official Bidam used this as an opportunity to raise a rebellion. He was popular with his countrymen, and many rallied to be behind him. He used their belief in signs to promote the idea that Queen Seondeok was a failure as a Queen. After all, her illness, and a failing star aimed in the direction of her home were signs of failure.

The rebellion lasted ten days, but Seondeok did not live to see the end of the rebellion. She died on February 17th, 647. She had no heirs, so her cousin Kim Seungman became Queen. She renamed herself Jindeok and completed the final suppression of the rebellion. Jindeok continued to improve the country and work towards unification.

King Muyeol, who was born Kim Chunchu, suceeded Jindeok who had died without an heir as well. He was the son of Seondeok’s sister Cheonmyeong and Kim Yongsu. Jindeok was the last of the Seonggol rulers, ending the rank. It would be Muyeol’s son King Munmu who would complete the unification of Korea.

Queen Seondeck’s legacy is not only the expansion of the borders of Silla and the military protection of her country. She started the alliance with Tang China, which would be strengthened during the reigns of her successors. She also strengthened the country’s connection to Buddhism, which had already been the national religion. She built many temples, statues and pagodas to that effect, some of which still stand. She also built Cheomseongdae, which remains one of the oldest observatories in the world. This inspired her neighbors to build their own observatories. She promoted interest in the sciences and education. She created public works and aid for those who needed it.

Some of her life has become legend – or legends have replaced some of her life. She was thought to have some sense of clairvoyance. One story tells of Seondeok receiving some Poppy seeds from the Emperor of China. It was accompanied by a picture showing what the flower would look like upon blooming. She stated that the flowers would have no fragrance. When the blooms finally came, no one could detect a fragrance. In some versions of the story, it is passed off as Seondeok’s clairvoyance. In others, she later explains she saw no bees or butterflies near it, so she had made a deductive conclusion.

The amount of legends involved in her life make it hard to do generic research on her. Since I only have a week to work on these, I tend to focus on internet sources. I always try to find multiple sources for anything I write. I was also limited because I only speak English fluently. However, I believe a lot of the scholarship on Queen Seondeok is still in paper form. I recommend researching more into her if you are interested.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: The Kingdom of Silla

Wikipedia: Cheomseongdae

Traditional East Asia: Queen Seondeok of Silla

The Ancient Encyclopedia: Seondeok

The Ancient Encyclopedia: The Bone Rank System

Thought Co: Queen Seondeok of the Silla Kingdom

History of Royal Women: The Three Queens of Silla

 

Masterlist

Women of History: Yamamoto Yae

For this week’s Women of History feature, I’ve decided to go out of my knowledge base. I’m more well versed in Euro-American history and wanted to expand my horizons. So after asking around it was suggested I look into Yamamoto Yae, a Japanese woman who served as a nurse during Russo-Japanese war and was decorated for her service to Japan. She continuously advocated for what she thought was needed, and did not let the cultural ties keep her from doing so. Continue reading

Women of History: Ching Shih

Today’s Women of History topic takes us on a walk on the wild side.  Ching Shih was a pirate, a highly successful one.  She even got to retire, which is not a common occurrence for people in this line of work.  She was also one of the few well known female pirates (There are more than you would think given the popular culture).

Ching Shih was born Shi Vianggu in 1775 in Guangdong, China. The name of this town was originally latinized as Canton, hence the term Cantonese.  It is located in the lower part of China, bordering the China sea, and north of Hong Kong.  She spent some time as a prostitute within the province before she was captured by pirates sometime before 1801.  She ended up marrying the leader of those pirates, a man named Cheng I.  Cheng I came from a long line of pirates, so it was a family business.  It was as his wife that her successful career as a Pirate began, as she was involved with his activities and knew who supported her husband, and who needed other means to support her later in life.  He also began consolidating the pirates in the area, eventually becoming the ‘Red Flag Fleet’, one of the most powerful pirating fleets in Asia at the time.

Continue reading

Historical Social Media

There has been much interest in the President’s use of social media the last few years.  Donald Trump is known for using twitter in particular to express his opinon.  I was coming across headlines about it today, and It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a long time ago.

Back when Farmville was a big thing on Facebook, the two of us starting joking around about the Founding Fathers and what they would be up to.  Somehow Thomas Jefferson was immersed in his own virtual farm whilst in Wiki-Thrall.  At the time we figured out what some of the others were doing, but Thomas Jefferson was the only one I remembered now.

It makes you wonder what kind of uses would historical people have used social media for?  Would Martin Luther have had a blog about his religious convictions?  Would Confucius use Twitter to share his wisdom?  Would FDR have fireside Youtube videos?

I’m interested in what you think would be likely.