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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning | Science and Mathematics Education


This study examines Catholic Benedictine sisters who majored in sciences and taught science for over 100 years at the College of Saint Benedict in Saint Joseph, Minnesota, USA. In 1913, the College of Saint Benedict began as a women’s college, expanding Saint Benedict’s Academy, a boarding high school for women. This historical organizational case study analyzed archived data to understand the benefits and challenges of women who lived religious lives and studied science. Although women, in general, are still underrepresented in the sciences, the data collected provides information on how the sisters obtained advanced degrees as early as 1923, well before women were widely accepted in the sciences in colleges. Over time, the need for training scientists declined. The academic cooperation with the male college, Saint John’s University, allowed coeducational courses, merging departments, and decreasing the need for faculty. The demand for teachers in K-12 schools also fell as choices increased for public education and some Catholic high schools closed. The sisters, however, contributed to scientific research and collaborated with scientists worldwide while living religious lives, despite the long duration of academic studies. In addition, they were role models that taught and developed science curricula at all levels and served in many leadership roles at the college and in the monastery. The legacy of the sisters in science continues, as 1800 lay women have graduated with degrees in the sciences since the start of college.