Women of Interest—Eunice Newton Foote

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Eunice Newton Foote was born in Goshen, Connecticut on July 17, 1819, and died September 30, 1888.

Eunice was studying Global Warming and its effects in the mid 1800’s, the first person ever known to have done so.  Foote became known for “theorizing that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change the average atmospheric temperature.”

Eunice Newton Foote was not only a scientist, but an inventor and a passionate women’s rights advocate.  She was the first scientist to experiment on the warming effect of sunlight on various gases.  After experimenting with two cylinders one filled with moist air and one with carbon dioxide, she discovered the cylinder filled with carbon dioxide warmed much more than the moist air and took twice as long to cool.  Thus resulting in her conclusion that “An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature.” Foote’s experiment was documented in a 1856 paper “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of the Sun’s Rays.” Unfortunately, her findings were mostly overlooked; and although her paper was presented at the American Association of the Advancement of Science, it was not presented by Foote herself, but rather by a male scientist named Joseph Henry.  It seems that Eunice Foote was not only overlooked due to her gender, but also because she was young and early in her career.

Eunice Newton Foote was one of eleven children.  Her father was a farmer and her mother a homemaker.  She graduated from Troy Female Seminary where they had their own chemistry labs and strongly encouraged women to study the sciences.  Eunice’s interests extended beyond science when, in 1848, she became one of hundreds of women who gathered for the first woman’s rights convention in the United States.  Many believe this was a significant event in triggering the women’s rights movement in America.  Foote and her husband, Elisha Foote, a judge and scientist whom she married in 1841, signed a declaration that came forward during the convention that called for “the civil, social, political and religious rights of women.”

Eunice Foot’s work was discovered in 2010 by geologist Ray Sorenson, when he came across an 1857 volume of Annual Scientific Discovery where Foote’s discoveries were noted.  Up to this point her work was largely unrecognized.  The following year, Sorensen published his findings on Foote in AAPG Search and Discovery.  In 2019 at The University of California, Santa Barbara, Foote’s contribution to climate science was finally recognized.  A book about Eunice Foote is in the works by research scholar John Person, who describes her as the Rosa Parks of Science.

Eunice and Elisha had two daughters and six grandchildren.  Eunice is resting in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York City.