Margaret Lowe Benston (1937-1991)
As an undergraduate, Margaret Benston studied chemistry and philosophy. She then went on to receive her PhD. in theoretical chemistry from the University of Washington and Berkley. In 1966 she arrived at SFU, where she accepted a position at the University’s Chemistry Department. Benston eventually moved away from theoretical chemistry, devoting her time to women’s studies and computer science. She was an egalitarian feminist with strong beliefs that a materially sustainable society was not possible without changing how technology was developed and used. Thus her aim to create a better society involved ideas for social change rather than social stability. Benston made a tremendous contribution to society, namely her concentration on finding ways to break down the hierarchical structure of knowledge and the technology created by it.
Margaret Benston and SCWIST – In 1981, Margaret Benston was one of the six founding members of SCWIST; she was also its Vice-President. Benston is also credited with the success of the 1983 National Conference on Canadian Women in Science, Technology and Engineering. Following her death in 1991, her strong support of female scientists earned her title as SCWIST’s first honourary member. The SCWIST BC Institute of Technology scholarship was later renamed in her honour.
Other Activities – Margaret Benston is the author of “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation”. This political piece of writing helped to change the lives of many people by demonstrating that individuals can make a difference. Benston was involved in many other projects. One of them was to develop a feminist alternative in an applied technological area. In examining how alternative values produce different technologies, she sought ways to involve users in the design and development of computer networks by structuring non-hierarchical relationships through the development of distinct technologies.
Words of Wisdom – “We cannot afford to give up the struggle to understand and to come to terms with our world. As women and feminists, we must begin to deal with the science and technology that shapes our lives and even our bodies. We have been the objects of a bad science; now we must become makers of a new one,” Maggie Benston in Feminism and the Critique of Scientific Method, 1989.