Eunice Newton Foote

1819 - 1888

An anonymous reviewer in the Scientific American for September 13, 1856, in describing Mrs. Foote's first research paper, concludes with the statement:

The columns of the Scientific American have been oftentimes graced with articles on scientific subjects, by ladies, which would do honor to men of the highest scientific reputation; and the experiments of Mrs. Foot [sic] afford abundant evidence of the ability of woman to investigate any subject with originality and precision (1:5).

Eunice Newton Foote was born July 17, 1819, the daughter of Isaac Newton, Jr. of East Bloomfield, N. Y., mother's name not given. She married Judge Elisha Foote, a lawyer and mathematician on August 12, 1841. She died September 30, 1888, place unknown. She had two children. The older, Mary Newton Henderson, born July 21, 1842, was an artist and writer, and a wealthy and influential woman, the wife of a U. S. senator from Missouri. Her second child, Augusta Newton Arnold, born in October 1844, was a writer, one of whose books was The Sea at Ebb Tide. Each daughter had three children (2:352-353; 3:339-340).

Foote's first paper, "Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun's rays" was published in the November 1856 issue of the American Journal of Science. A parenthetical insert states that this paper was read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science on August 23 of the same year, and a reference to this presentation was also made in the editorial review in the Scientific American. [For some reason the report of these meetings does not include this title.]

In this paper Foote describes the experiments she devised, the apparatus she used and the results she obtained. Her apparatus consisted of an air pump, two glass cylinders and four thermometers. With this equipment she could test the gases hydrogen, oxygen and "carbonic acid gas" [carbon dioxide] for temperature differences between cylinders in shade and sunlight. She could also test "common" air in the cylinders under different conditions of pressure and humidity, and use the air sample to contrast with the other gases in the comparison tube. She tabulated her results and found that air under pressure or with a high water content became warmer in sunlight than air under less pressure or when "desiccated" by calcium chloride. When both samples were in the shade there was very little difference between them. From this she deduced that air is colder at high altitudes because it is rarer and drier. She also found the result that the cylinder containing carbon dioxide became much warmer in sunlight than the one containing air, thereby demonstrating what we call the greenhouse effect today and is a phenomenon which is of concern to us even now (4).

The writer in the Scientific American article reviews this paper in great detail, remarking that Foote's data did much to resolve a dispute then current among the correspondents of that journal, none of whom, he reports, supported their opinions with "practical experiments," and observes that "this, we are happy to say, has been done by a 1ady" (1:5).

Foote's paper on a new source of e1ectrical excitation was published in the Physics and Chemistry Section of the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for August 1857. [The first half of it was also published in the American Journal of Science for August 1857.] The second half failed to appear later (5: 6).

In this paper she reported experiments with a glass tube filled with different gases and attached to a gold leaf electrometer with which to measure electrical charges. These experiments were conducted over a period of eight months, and consisted of evacuating the tube and replacing the air with oxygen, hydrogen or carbon dioxide. She noted the effects of changing pressures [by the use of an air pump] and also the effects of heat and humidity upon electrical charges as indicated by the action of the gold leaves. She then hypothesized that these small-scale variations of electrical charges may be repeated on a large scale in the fluctuations of pressure and temperature in our atmosphere. Her discussion of this theory includes references to the works and theories of Becquerel, Gay-Lussac, Biot and Humboldt, indicating her familiarity with the literature. She implies that she devised her experiments to test these theories and concludes from her results that magnetic phenomena, which are related to electrical phenomena must be connected with cyclic atmospheric changes, "aerial tides" (5).

No more papers by Foote have been found in the records, a1though she lived until 1888. Nothing was found about her early life or education. The work she did publish reveals her interest in scientific problems of large dimensions, the global atmosphere and the geologic history of the earth. It also shows that she had the attributes of a good research scientist. She proposed the problem, devised experiments, manipulated apparatus and reported all her results together with their implications. She indeed had a real understanding of the correct procedures for scientific research and the ability to use it. Whatever the reasons, her abandonment of scientific investigation resulted in a real loss to science of a gifted research mind.