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Eunice Newton Foote

Eunice Newton Foote (July 17, 1819 – September 30, 1888)[1][2][3] was an American scientist, physicist, inventor, and women's rights campaigner from Seneca Falls, New York. She was the first scientist to theorize that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change its temperature, in her paper Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun's rays at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in 1856. Perhaps because women were not yet allowed to present papers to AAAS at that time, Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution delivered the paper that identified the research as her work. Although her experiments did not clearly differentiate between the effect of incident solar radiation and that of long-wave infrared, in the process, she identified the root cause of what we now call the greenhouse effect.

Eunice Newton Foote
Eunice Newton

(1819-07-17)July 17, 1819
DiedSeptember 30, 1888(1888-09-30) (aged 69)
Resting placeGreen-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York City
EducationTroy Female Seminary
Known forTheorizing that changing the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would change the average atmospheric temperature, identifying the root cause of the greenhouse effect
Elisha Foote
(m. 1841; his death 1883)
ChildrenMary Foote
Augusta Newton Foote
Parent(s)Thirza Newton
Isaac Newton Jr.
RelativesJohn Henderson Jr. (grandson)

Early lifeEdit

She was born as Eunice Newton in 1819 in Goshen, Connecticut, but grew up In Bloomfield, New York and was educated at the Troy Female Seminary in 1836-37 where she was taught scientific theory by Amos Eaton. Her mother was Thirza Newton,[4] and her father was Isaac Newton Jr., originally of Goshen, Connecticut and later a farmer and entreprenuer in East Bloomfield, New York[1][5] She had six sisters and five brothers.[6]

Eunice attended the Troy Female Seminary, later re-named the Emma Willard School, from 1836-1838. Students at the seminary were permitted to attend a nearby science college, which was where Foote learned foundational chemistry and biology. There she was influenced by the textbooks of Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, Emma Willard's sister, who was a female pioneer of women in science, a botany expert, and the third female member of the AAAS.[7]


As a member of the editorial committee for the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention, Foote was one of the signatories of the convention's Declaration of Sentiments. Her husband, Elisha, also was a signatory of the declaration. She was one of the five women who prepared the proceedings of the convention for publication.[8] Foote was a neighbor and friend of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton.[citation needed]


An 1856 column in Scientific American described Eunice Newton Foote's temperature experiments with gases and her findings that carbonic acid (carbon dioxide, CO2) caused the greatest warming effect.

Foote conducted a series of experiments that demonstrated the interactions of the sun's rays on different gases. She used an air pump, four thermometers, and two glass cylinders. First she placed two thermometers in each cylinder, then by using the air pump, she evacuated the air from one cylinder and compressed it in the other. Allowing both cylinders to reach the same temperature, she placed the cylinders in the sunlight to measure temperature variance once heated and under different moisture conditions. She performed this experiment on CO
, common air, and hydrogen.[9] Of the gases she tested, Foote concluded that carbonic acid (CO
) trapped the most heat, reaching a temperature of 125 °F (52 °C).[10] Looking to the history of the Earth, Foote theorized that "An atmosphere of that gas would give to our earth a high temperature; and if, as some suppose, at one period of its history, the air had mixed with it a larger proportion than at present, an increased temperature from its own action, as well as from increased weight, must have necessarily resulted."[11][12]

Foote illustrated her findings in a paper entitled, Circumstances affecting the heat of sun's rays, which was accepted at the eighth annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting on August 23, 1856. It is not clear why Foote did not present her own work at the conference, as women were in principle allowed to speak, but the presentation of her paper was made instead by Prof. John Henry of the Smithsonian Institution. Before reading Foote's work, Henry introduced the findings by stating "Science was of no country and of no sex. The sphere of woman embraces not only the beautiful and the useful, but the true".[13] Foote's paper was published later the same year under her name in the American Journal of Arts and Science.[12]

Apparently unaware of the 1856 publication in AAAS of Foote's experiments on the gases trapping sunlight,[12] three years later, John Tyndall reported his results investigating how various gases trapped infrared thermal radiation, which was published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society, where he was a fellow. It noted, “We know nothing of the effect even of air upon heat radiated from terrestrial sources... With regard to the action of other gases upon heat, we are not, so far as I am aware, possessed of a single experiment".[citation needed] Incorrectly, Tyndall largely has been credited as performing the foundational work on the greenhouse effect and climate change science.

Foote also worked on electrical excitation of gases and, in August 1857, her work was published again in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[5][14] She also received a patent in 1860 for a "filling for soles of boots and shoes".[8]


Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays (1856 by Saratoga Springs, New York).[15][11]

A symposium about her work, Science Knows No Gender: In Search of Eunice Foote Who 162 Years Ago Discovered the Principal Cause of Global Warming was held May 2018 at University of California Santa Barbara, USA.[16]


In 2010, retired petroleum geologist Ray Sorenson came across Foote's work in a 1857 volume of Annual Scientific Discovery. He quickly realized that Foote was the first to make the connection between carbon dioxide and climate change and that her work had gone unrecognized.[13] In January 2011, Sorenson published his findings on Foote in AAPG Search and Discovery, where it received "more response than any of his other work". In 2018, a symposium at University of California, Santa Barbara recognized Foote's contribution to climate science and her omission from the history of the field.[citation needed]

Since Foote's work entered the public sphere, there has been much debate over whether Tyndall deliberately used Foote's work without due credit or whether it was just coincidental timing.[17]

Personal lifeEdit

On August 12, 1841, she married Elisha Foote, a judge, statistician, and inventor in East Bloomfield.[1][18] Elisha and Eunice lived in Seneca Falls on North Park Street,[19] and later they moved to Saratoga, New York.[1] Eunice was described as "a fine portrait and landscape painter".[1] They were the parents of:

Eunice and Elisha had six grandchildren, three by each daughter.[5]

Eunice is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York [21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Newton Leonard, Ermina (1915). Newton genealogy, genealogical, biographical, historical, being a record of the descendants of Richard Newton of Sudbury and Marlborough, Massachusetts 1638, with genealogies of families descended from the immigrants Rev. Roger Newton of Milford, Connecticut, Thomas Newton of Fairfield, Connecticut. De Pere, Wis.: B.A. Leonard. p. 110. Retrieved December 8, 2016 – via
  2. ^ Reed, Catherine C. "Eunice Newton Foote". Bouteloua (blog). Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved July 17, 2019 – via Wikiwix.
  3. ^ "5 New England Newton families". RootsWeb. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved July 17, 2019 – via Wikiwix.
  4. ^ "Eunice Newton". RootsWeb. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Reed, Elizabeth Wagner (1992). "Eunice Newton Foote". American women in science before the civil war. Archived from the original on October 6, 2016. Retrieved January 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "Isaac Newton". RootsWeb. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  7. ^ Emma Willard School Archives / Troy Female Seminary Catalogs Collection, Listed in 1836-37 Catalog
  8. ^ a b Wellman, Judith (2010). The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman's Rights Convention. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252092824. Retrieved January 31, 2016 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Rathi, Akshat (May 14, 2018). "The female scientist who identified the greenhouse-gas effect never got the credit". Quartz. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  10. ^ Foote, Eunice (November 1856). Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays. The American Journal of Science and Arts. 22. pp. 382–383. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  11. ^ a b Sorenson, Raymond P. (2018). "Eunice Foote's Pioneering Research on CO2 and Climate Warming: Update*". AAPG.
  12. ^ a b c McNeill, Leila (December 5, 2016). "This Lady Scientist Defined the Greenhouse Effect But Didn't Get the Credit, Because Sexism". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  13. ^ a b Mandel, Kyla (May 18, 2018). "This woman fundamentally changed climate science — and you've probably never heard of her". Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  14. ^ Foote, Eunice (1858). "On a new source of electrical excitation". Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. p. 123. Retrieved December 8, 2016 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Sorenson, Raymond (11 January 2011). "Eunice Foote's Pioneering Research On CO2 And Climate Warming" (PDF). Search and Discovery (70092). Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  16. ^ Mitchell, Jeff (May 10, 2018). "Science Knows No Gender: In Search of Eunice Foote Who 162 Years Ago Discovered the Principal Cause of Global Warming". UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  17. ^ Jackson, Roland (2019). "Eunice Foote, John Tyndall and a question of priority". Notes and Records. The Royal Society: 1–14. doi:10.1098/rsnr.2018.0066.
  18. ^ a b Goodwin, Nathaniel (1849). The Foote family: or, The descendants of Nathaniel Foote, one of the first ... Hartford: Case, Tiffany and company. p. 159 – via
  19. ^ "Foote House, site of ...A NYS Women's History Site". New York State Women's History. New York Cultural Heritage Tourism Network. Archived from the original on March 27, 2017. Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  20. ^ Leonard, John William; Mohr, William Frederick; Holmes, Frank R.; Knox, Herman Warren; Downs, Pinfield Scott, eds. (1907). "Arnold, Augusta Foote". Who's who in New York City and State, Issue 3. L.R. Hamersly Company. p. 41 – via Google Books.
  21. ^

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