It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a woman accomplishes something outside of the traditional spheres of marriage and motherhood, there are two responses. The first is to downplay their work. The second is for a male in a similar position to claim to her achievement as his own.
The Woman with the Cure, by Lynn Cullen, was published in February. In the early 20th century, polio threatened the lives of millions of American kids. The virus seemed to be two steps ahead of the scientists whose job was to find the cause and create a vaccine. During the 1940s and 1950s, Dorothy Horstmann was the only woman in a room full of men. The youngest daughter of immigrants from Germany, she was fighting on two fronts: the disease and sexism.
Her experiments led her to the hypothesis that polio spreads through the human body via the blood. When an error by one of Dorothy’s teammates opens the door to a universal acceptance of her theory, she becomes the one who might be known as the one who “broke the back of polio”. This is the opportunity that Dorothy has been looking for. But there are also pitfalls that could sink everything that she has been working for.
This book is amazing. I am not shocked that Dorothy has finally been given her due after decades of silence. Like her contemporary Rosalind Franklin, the only reason that her name and the advancements she made have been “forgotten” is because of her gender.
What I liked was the emotional push and pull of the narrative. Though Dorothy was dedicated to her work, she also wanted to come home to someone at the end of the day. What we forget these days is that idea that women can have it all (even with its flaws) is a relatively new one. It is because of foremothers like Dorothy Horstmann that it is possible to have a thriving career while having a spouse/partner and children.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
The Woman with the Cure is available wherever books are sold.
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