Elizabeth Fulhame

Paragraph from a printed essay page
Paragraph giving Elizabeth Fulhame's view of
how some may regard work done by a woman,
from 'An essay on combustion, with a view to
a new art of dying and painting …' (1794).
[See below for transcription]

Dates unknown
Active between 1780 and 1794


Little is known of Mrs Elizabeth Fulhame.

We know that her husband had studied chemistry at the University of Edinburgh under Joseph Black, and that she produced a single remarkable text in 1794.


A skilled chemist

Her 'Essay on combustion' shows that Mrs Fulhame was a skilled chemist and that she was familiar with the theories of scientists such as Joseph Priestley and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.

Her work was much praised, and was republished in Philadelphia in 1810, where she was elected as an honorary member of the Philadelphia Chemical Society.


Many chemical experiments

Mrs Fulhame meticulously describes methods, apparatus and materials she used in many chemical experiments, and some successful results.

She was not afraid to disagree with Lavoisier, and it is poignant that he had been executed by guillotine earlier that year – six months before the date of her essay.

Count Benjamin Rumford repeated some of Mrs Fulhame's experiments, though he did not always agree with her conclusions.


Observations on images

Although she was unaware of the implications, her observations on images produced by the action of light anticipate later discoveries in photography.

Mrs Fulhame shows she is open to criticism, and will 'relinquish [her proposition] as soon as a more rational appears.'


The 'spectre' of women

In the paragraph (pictured here) from her 'Essay on combustion', Elizabeth Fulhame writes:

'It may appear presuming to some that I should engage in pursuits of this nature, but averse from indolence, and having much leisure, my mind led me to this mode of amusement which I found entertaining and will, I hope, be thought inoffensive by the liberal and the learned. But censure is perhaps inevitable; for some are so ignorant that they grow sullen and silent and are chilled with horror at the sight of any thing that bears the semblance of learning, in whatever shape it may appear; and should the spectre appear in the shape of woman, the pangs which they suffer are truly dismal.'


Items relating to Elizabeth Fulhame featured in our display 'Celebrating Scottish women of science', which runs at the National Library of Scotland from 1 March to 30 April.


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