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Help Us Document Notable Scientists on Wikipedia

Dr. JoGayle Howard holds a young panda in her arms

Dr. JoGayle Howard with Giant Panda and Laparoscopy Equipment. 1999. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

By Effie Kapsalis, Senior Program Officer for Digital Strategy for Because of Her Story and Smithsonian Open Access


Edith P. Mayo, curator emerita at our National Museum of American History, said, "When you're invisible, people assume you've done nothing." Women's contributions to America are largely missing from the traditional American history narrative. That's why I'm passionate about making women's accomplishments easier to find.

What do you do when you hear the name of a notable woman you don't recognize? It's likely one of your first steps is to search the internet. When I type the name "Vicki Funk" into my iPhone, a tiny portrait and Dr. Funk's job title pop up on my screen with no further clicking required.

Photo of iPhone with Vicki Funk typed in the search bar. The first result says Siri Knowledge with a photo and bio of Dr. Funk.
Image courtesy of Effie Kapsalis.

For many topics we search for, basic facts appear in our search results. Powered by Wikipedia, these facts help me immediately learn why the people I search for are important. For many lesser-known women in science, no image or professional accomplishments appear. Without this visibility, a student or others seeking to learn more might believe they've hit a dead end. 

You might be surprised to learn that you can help ensure notable women like Dr. Funk have adequate representation when you search their names online. Adding photos and information about notable women to Wikipedia helps ensure these women appear when people search their names.

On March 25, 2021, from 1–3 p.m. EST, you can join us to write more women scientists into history by joining our Wikipedia & Women in Science: Smithsonian Groundbreakers Edit-a-thon. This training is created for beginners and experienced editors. You will learn the basics of how to edit Wikipedia based on Smithsonian research, updating articles related to women in science in the United States. This program is hosted in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Graphic for Wikipedia and Women in Science with photo of Dr. JoGayle Howard looking through a microscope
Dr. JoGayle Howard works with embryos from the National Institutes of Health at the dissecting microscope in1982. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Because of Her Story curators including Dr. Elizabeth Harmon work to fill in these gender gaps in American History. At the Wikipedia & Women in Science Edit-a-thon, we will update Wikipedia information using the "Funk List." This is a list of close to 500 Smithsonian women in science updated by Dr. Harmon. The list is named after late botanist Dr. Vicki Funk.

The edit-a-thon is just one of many programs we conduct in partnership with the global Wikipedia community to make the contributions of American women visible online. The generous support of the Case Digital Innovation Project for the American Women's History Initiative, Because Of Her Story, enables us to do this important work.

This year we are ramping up our efforts to address the gender gap on Wikipedia. Currently, only 18.72% of Wikipedia biographies in English are about women, according to the organization Wiki Women in Red. Here is how we will work, with help from the public, to address the gender gap:

  1. We brought on Wikimedian-at-large Andrew Lih, who will develop the tools to share more groups of notable women, like the Funk List, on Wikipedia.
  2. Through a gift from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies, we are partnering with Wiki Education to train staff from some of the Smithsonian's more than 200 Affiliate organizations across the U.S. This will allow staff at these museums and cultural sites to add their own resources about American women to Wikipedia. In partnership with our Affiliates, we aim to add 100 new articles about women to Wikipedia.
  3. We will host virtual edit-a-thons throughout 2021 focusing on American women with varied racial and cultural backgrounds.
  4. Finally, we are working to enhance our understanding of American women's history through improved technical tools and data. These efforts will ensure these critical records are easier to find in online search.

We can't do this work without you. Consider joining us at Wikipedia & Women in Science: Smithsonian Groundbreakers Edit-a-thon to learn more about notable women. Your efforts make these historic figures visible and help empower women today to continue to break barriers. 


Effie Kapsalis is the Senior Program Officer for Digital Strategy for Because of Her Story and Smithsonian Open Access. She works to make the Smithsonian's collections, research, and resources available to people around the world even if they can't visit Washington D.C.

The Case Digital Innovation Project supports creative solutions that drive collaborations across the Smithsonian, including the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story, and advances digital innovations to reach new audiences, showcasing diverse stories of women and girls.

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