I've been studying now and then for the Physics Praxis II exam that I need to take later this month to get accreditation to teach high school physics. The exam is pretty trivial, so I'm not too worried about it, but there are some things I haven't done in years that I would like to brush up on a bit (for instance, optics). So, once a week or so I pick up one of my old elementary physics texts and do a bit of reading.
This evening I picked up Giancoli, a venerable old physics text that has been used for decades (in various incarnations) to teach elementary physics. I just happened to open the text at Chapter 15 "Electric Currents" and came across the following passage:
...the University of Bologna [is] thought to be the oldest university in existence. As long ago as the thirteenth century it had 10,000 students and many women professors.
Wow, a 20+ year old physics text that banters about the history of female professors teaching. This was, at first blush, quite heartening. I'd never realized before (even though I've owned the text for ages) that Giancoli was sensitive enough to point out the role women have played in academia in the past.
But then I read the footnote to the second sentence in the passage above, and my optimistic balloon deflated. The footnote Giancoli added reads:
A thirteenth century historian reported that one of the women professors, Novella d'Andrea, was so beautiful that she had to deliver her lectures from behind a curtain to keep from distracting students.
Such a nice message Giancoli is passing on to the young female physicists..."Isn't it cute that UBologna allowed women to teach all those centuries ago. But they were just so distracting!".
I cut my teeth as a physicist using this text oh-so-many-years-ago. If I noticed the above passage back then, it certainly didn't leave an impression on me. For reasons of survival, I was somewhat oblivious to such heavy handed sexism back then.
I wonder if this lovely little tidbit has survived the past 20 years intact in the more recent versions of the Giancoli text.