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Marie Paulze Lavoisier | French chemist and noblewoman

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Marie Paulze was only 13 when she married the wealthy French lawyer Antoine Lavoisier, and she immediately started learning English so that she could act as the scientific go-between for his true passion in life – chemistry. Soon she was presiding over one of Paris’s most influential salons, hosting visitors such as Benjamin Franklin and James Watt. Relying on brains rather than beauty, she persuaded financiers to invest in her husband’s ventures. “She is tolerably handsome,” remarked a tobacco tycoon from Virginia, “but from her Manner it would seem that she thinks her forte is the Understanding rather than the Person.”

Lavoisier built his reputation on identifying oxygen, but his wife was the English-speaking expert available to negotiate with Joseph Priestley, who had already discovered the same gas but given it a different name. She was far more than just a mouthpiece: up to speed with all latest theories, she included her own critical commentaries in her published translations of books and articles.

She was also an accomplished artist. While her husband is celebrated for reforming chemistry with his revolutionary textbook, it was her meticulous illustrations that enabled chemists all over the world to replicate his trials. Patricia Fara

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