Finger Lakes woman was first to link CO2 and global warming

Finger Lakes Community College will celebrate Women’s History Month on Wednesday, March 10, with a virtual talk exploring the life of a local suffragist and scientist whose discoveries laid the foundation for climate research.

Eunice Foote
Eunice Foote

Eunice Newton Foote, who grew up in Bloomfield, was also the fifth person to sign the Declaration of Sentiments at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls.

Former East Bloomfield Historical Society Director Leif R. HerrGesell will give the free, public talk via Webex from 1 to 2:15 p.m. A link to join will be posted on the college’s event calendar at events.flcc.edu a few days before.

HerrGesell, of Canandaigua, is a self-described “lifelong student of history” who, in addition to his work for the historical society, has written an award-winning documentary about the last Highland Rebellion in Scotland and contributed his talent to films about the Civil War, Native Americans, baseball and a variety of other topics. He additionally served as a public affairs officer for the Navy in Afghanistan.

Leif HerrGesell
Leif HerrGesell

His interest in Foote is piqued by the local connection. She was born in Connecticut in 1819 but grew up in Bloomfield, where her father was a prominent businessman. While attending the Troy Female Seminary she and other female students were encouraged to attend science lectures at a nearby college.

Foote became an amateur scientist, conducting experiments on the interaction between the sun’s rays and various gases. She offered a conclusion that is considered foundational for what is now known as the greenhouse effect: that higher carbon dioxide levels would lead to a warmer planet. She wrote of her findings in a paper that was presented by a man at a conference, though credit was offered posthumously, as subsequent researchers came upon her work. Her paper, “Circumstances Affecting the Heat of Sun’s Rays,” was also published in its entirety in The American Journal of Science in September 1856. Time magazine wrote about Foote’s contribution in 2019, 200 years after her birth.

“She is unarguably one of the most important women in the 19th century,” said HerrGesell. “She predated Madame Curie by 50 years.”

Also a prominent feminist, Foote’s name is the fifth to appear in the declaration that emerged at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Her husband, Elijah Foote, a judge, also signed the document which called for “the civil, social, political and religious rights of women.”

After marriage, the Footes relocated from Ontario County to Seneca Falls and later, Saratoga. They had two daughters and six grandchildren. Eunice died at age 69 in 1888. A short film about Foote, called “Eunice,” was made in 2018.

The talk is presented as part of FLCC’s History, Culture & Diversity speaker series organized by Robert Brown, professor of history.

“To have someone so exceptional hailing from our very own Bloomfield, New York, is a matter of great pride,” said Brown. “Eunice Newton Foote was a significant figure in America’s nascent women’s rights movement and a pioneer climate scientist. It is with great honor and humility, that we will relate her long-forgotten story on March 10.”

For more information, email Robert.Brown@flcc.edu or call (585) 785-1307.

Author: Lenore Friend

Lenore Friend is the community affairs director at FLCC and the college's liaison with Finger Lakes TV. Contact her at (585) 785-1623 or Lenore.Friend@flcc.edu.

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