Kono Yasui is our plant biologist highlight of the month. She was born in Japan in 1880. Throughout her life she challenged many of the cultural norms for women at that time.
At her father’s encouragement, she constantly pursued education, first at schools for women in Japan, followed by studies overseas in the United States, and eventually back at universities in Japan. She was the first woman to publish in a Japanese scientific journal, the first Japanese woman to publish in an foreign journal, and the first Japanese woman to receive her doctorate. She received her PhD at age 47, in 1927, from Tokyo Imperial University for her thesis “Studies on the structure of lignite, brown coal, and bituminous coal in Japan”. She wrote a total of 99 papers, publishing her first paper before she finished her undergraduate degree (“Weber’s Organ of Carp Fish”). She focused her work in botany, but spanned fields of plan biology from cytology to coal formation to plant genetics and effects of nuclear fallout on plants.
For her scientific research and achievements she was awarded the Purple Ribbon and the Order of the Precious Crown. With her many monetary awards, she started the Yasui-Kuroda Scholarship for women studying natural science. However, she did not want to be remembered for attention that she got:
“I do not seek fame, nor do I desire high status, but will be content to known that my work lives on after me.”
More than 60 years after her retirement, her legacy still is remembered, both for her scientific achievements and advancement of women in science.
For more information on Kono Yasui, read Leila McNeill’s article “How a Pioneering Botanist Broke Down Japan’s Gender Barriers”. For more biographies of women in science, check out “International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950” by Catharine M. C. Haines.
Download a copy here.