10 Nov 2021

10 Nov 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HGSS.

A seismologist's beginnings: Inge Lehmann's experiences during the 1910s and '20s as a woman in science

Lif Jacobsen Lif Jacobsen
  • Danish Nations Achieves, Kalvebod Brygge 34, 1560 Copenhagen V

Abstract. Celebrated for her 1936 discovery of the Earth’s inner core, seismologist Inge Lehmann (1888–1993) has often been portrayed as a trailblazing female scientist, unwilling to accept discrimination in her pursuit of an academic profession. Yet, a close reading of her experiences suggests that Lehmann faced severe restrictions early on in her career. Only by being pragmatic about her situation did she successfully establish herself as a professional scientist.

Having attended a progressive co-educational school before studying mathematics at the University of Copenhagen, Lehmann had little direct experience of gender discrimination. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she entered Cambridge University in 1911, along with Niels Bohr, but found herself unprepared for the gendered social segregation practiced there. Exhausted from overwork, Lehman abandoned her studies and returned to Denmark. Over the next six years, she came to understand how severely her gender limited her career options.

In 1918, Inge Lehman returned to the University of Copenhagen to complete her studies, and became a teaching assistant for a professor of actuarial science in 1923. Because her chances for obtaining a scientific post at the university were slim, she joined Professor Niels Erik Nørlund in his efforts to reform the Danish Geodetic Service. In 1928, Professor Nørlund rewarded Lehmann's voluntary change of academic discipline from mathematics to seismology by appoint her as Director of the Seismology Department.

Lif Jacobsen

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on hgss-2021-20', Anonymous Referee #1, 13 Nov 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on hgss-2021-20', Anonymous Referee #2, 16 Nov 2021

Lif Jacobsen

Lif Jacobsen


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Short summary
The Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann (1888–1993) – known for her 1936 discovery of the Earth's inner core- road to success was difficult and full of challenges. While she herself refused to accept any notion of gender difference ascribed, society at large was less open-minded. Using newly discovered,unpublished historical documents, this article examine to what degree her gender played a decisive role in her graduate and post-graduate experiences.