Women in Sci-Fi 1666-1969

Women in Sci-Fi

Part 1, 1666-1969

Lately I’ve seen a number of posts requesting woman raise their voices if they enjoy sci-fi/fantasy and others asking “Who the next Le Guin will be?”

I hate that we need these posts.

They’re problematic in the same way—they treat women involved in sci-fi as unicorns. Ursula K. Le Guin was wonderful and a hero of mine, but asking someone to fill her shoes implies that there is only space for this one pair of shoes. It also implies that we don’t already have these amazing and powerful female voices in sci-fi like N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor.

But I was already working on this post because while I was reflecting on sexism in vintage sci-fi (which I LOVE) a family member replied that I should gloss over it: “Oh it was the time…oh women weren’t reading it so it didn’t matter…oh women weren’t writing it if they wanted it changed.” This couldn’t be more false. It’s the kind of belief that leads men to still argue that women don’t enjoy comics, fantasy, or sci-fi. Or, if women do, then men argue that women aren’t “real” fans of these things. Or not the “right” kinds of fans. Or they’re not as “serious” because they don’t seem to know this or that obscure thing.

The fact is there has never been a time in which women weren’t involved in writing, reading, and broadcasting Science and Speculative Fiction. This list isn’t comprehensive; it just collects some of my favorites that I think should get way more credit than they do, especially by fake fanboys that think women just aren’t into sci-fi. To find out more, please visit http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/women_sf_writers.

1666  Margaret Cavendish writes and publishes the Blazing World. It examines the intersection of race, gender, science, imagination, and self. It is referenced in Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. Also of note as a proto–sci-fi writer is Aphra Behn. // http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/51783

Women in Sci-Fi

1818 Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein. // http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/84

1826 Mary Shelley publishes The Last Man. // http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18247

1827 Jane Webb Loudon publishes The Mummy. Her work is particularly fascinating because she assumed cultural and technological shifts for her narrative. She also popularized gardening as a healthy activity for young ladies because women can have *multiple* interests. // http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/56426

1907 Gertrude Barrows Bennett publishes her first work at 17! She wrote under the pen name Francis Stevens and basically created dark fantasy (Lovecraft praised her works). She also wrote a number of sci-fi stories.

Women in Sci-FiWomen in Sci-Fi

1915 Charlotte Perkins Gilman (my LADY) publishes Herland. Herland imagines a world populated by women who reproduce asexually. It takes a hard look at how gender roles are socially constructed and is part of a trilogy. // http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32

1926 Charlotte Haldane Publishes Man’s World. It follows the story of a world ruled by a small group of elite-male scientists. Women who don’t adhere to traditional gender roles are punished and sterilized.

1926 Clare Winger Harris becomes the first woman to publish stories under her own name in sci-fi magazines. Her works pushed the definitions of humanity looking at cyborgs among other human-variants. People are amazed a woman could write such work. It’s been 92 years… How are people still asking this!

Women in Sci-Fi

1927 Metropolis is released by Fritz Lang; however, it was Thea von Harbou who wrote both the book and the play.

1929 Kay Burdekin publishes The Rebel Passion and continues writing under the pen name Murray Constantine. Kay was strongly anti-fascist and highly political in her speculative fiction and published under a pen name to keep her, her female lover, and her family safe. Swastika Night was published a decade before Orwell’s 1984 and largely deals with the same themes: erasure of the past, disinformation campaigns, etc. She was an ardent pacifist who later left the movement believing that fascism must be fought tooth and nail. Oh Kay Burdekin, you are right.

Women in Sci-Fi

1932 Catherine Lucille Moore had grown up reading fantasy and sf. She published her first works in the serials of the day like Weird Tales and wrote under the pen name C.L. Moore. She was nominated to be the first woman grandmaster of the SFWA; however, at the request of family the offer was withdrawn due to her advanced Alzheimer’s at the time.

1933-1938 MARGARET BRUNDAGE! Her name gets all caps because she is one of my favorite Weird Tales illustrators. She was the most frequently appearing cover artists for the magazine. She signed her name M. Brundage to hide that she was a woman. Conservative groups complained about her damsels’ risqué nature.

Women in Sci-FiWomen in Sci-Fi

1942 Vita Sackville-West publishes Grand Canyon. Famously a lover of Virginia Woolf, she’s been the subject of whole books on her sexual conquests. Grand Canyon is her only SciFi but it is a great alternate history. It curses the policy of appeasement and also questions the newfound technologies that war brings. //https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/sackvillewestv-grandcanyon/sackvillewestv-grandcanyon-00-h.html

1947 Alice Mary Norton, also published under Andrew North and Andre Norton, releases her first work, “The People of the Crater” in Fantasy Book magazine. I read her books for years not realizing she was a woman. She was one of the founding members of Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America, and was the first woman to be a SFWA Grand Master and the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

1948 Judith Merrill publishes That Only A Mother. Throughout her career she published numerous short stories and novels and edited many fanzines and anthologies. She was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2013.

1948 Wilmar H. Shiras (pen name Jane Howes) wrote and published “In Hiding” about a group of super-gifted children trying to find their place in the world. It basically went viral for the day and was added to many anthologies. It is included in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. It has been credited, though not confirmed, to be the inspiration for the Uncanny X-Men.

Women in Sci-Fi

1949 Miriam Allen deFord begins writing for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her stories are a beautiful blend of science fiction and mystery. Her bibliography is as long as my arm.

1950 Mildred McElroy Clingerman published a number of short stories in anthologies. Anthony Boucher dedicated a book to her for her the influence on the genre. What I really like is that she also published in Good Housekeeping and Collier’s. You are never an either/or; you can be more than one thing.

1952 Betty Ballantine (later Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inductee) establishes Ballantine Books with her husband. They would become one of the leading publishers in science fiction.

1955 Leigh Brackett publishes The Long Tomorrow. She first had her works published in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in the 1940s. She is known as the Queen of Space Opera AND WROTE THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. She was also the first woman shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

Women in Sci-FiWomen in Sci-Fi

1961 Zenna Henderson publishes a collection of short stories titled Pilgrimage: The Book of the People. Zenna started reading sci-fi at age 12 when she would collect Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, and other popular publications of the time. In 1950 she was already considered to be an up-and-coming author.

1962 Naomi Mitchison publishes Memoirs of a Spacewoman.

1965 Cele Goldsmith Lalli steps down as editor of Amazing Stories. During her time as editor she encouraged many new writers and readers. Ursula K. Le Guin credited Goldsmith as “opening the door to me.”

1967 Anne McCaffrey publishes Dragonflight. On a personal note: Dragonsong was one of the first books I remember reading. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. White Dragon (the story of Jaxom and Ruth) was one of the first sci-fi books to be placed on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

Women in Sci-Fi

1969 Ursula K. Le Guin publishes The Left Hand of Darkness. She continues a proud—and long—tradition of women involved in science and speculative fiction. (We will miss you Ursula!)




Becky is a dog-obsessed, rainbow-haired, book-loving, history-studying, rock-climbing, flavor-fiend & nerd-generalist. She specializes in vintage scifi, grimdark fantasy, and playing and painting miniatures.

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Don’t know if you know about “Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965” By Eric Leif Davin. There are quite a few excerpts on Google Books, and it seems quite comprehensive. I’ve only dipped into it, but found the account about Katherine MacLean getting started quite interesting. (p. 146-ish)

I did not know about that book. I would love to get it but ouch $45 for kindle. I’ll look into the google excerpts. Thanks for the recommendation!


Jacqueline Hentzen

I’m personally wondering who the next Ursula K LeGuin will be, in the sense of who will emulate her writing style, tone, and ability. Other than that, yeah, this nailed it.