Quick hit: Carl Sagan on why excluding women is a bad idea

From Letters of Note comes this missive on why excluding women from scientific organizations benefits no one, written by scientist Carl Sagan in 1981. Sagan was a member of The Explorers Club, an international society devoted to scientific exploration. Founded in 1904, the club still had not begun admitting women by the 1980s. Sagan penned a letter to the membership arguing that excluding women was not in the club’s interest, even if it was a tradition:

When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration — in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.

Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints — 3.6 million years old — made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species… These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.

Go read the whole thing here.

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