Nylon and “The Test Tube Girl”: Reimagining Plastic Futures
In 1939 DuPont unveiled nylon stockings to the public at two U.S. world’s fairs. DuPont’s Wonder World of Science exhibitions featured a figure known as “The Test Tube Girl,” who embodied the latest in scientific developments, including nylon.
In this talk Isabelle Held examines “The Test Tube Girl” and other similar imagery through the lenses of race, gender, and sexuality. Drawing on visual culture and nylon artifacts, Held shows how in these examples, whiteness was presented as the unmarked norm. Held will also present a counter-history, highlighting how individuals and companies pushed back against these exclusionary practices and crafted nylon hosiery for a wider range of consumers, including Black, queer, and trans people.
About Isabelle Held
Isabelle Marina Held is an interdisciplinary design historian focusing on the body, materiality, science, and technology. As the Science History Institute’s Price-Doan Postdoctoral Fellow 2020–2022, she is working on her forthcoming book, solicited by Duke University Press. The book is tentatively titled Atomic Bombshells: How Plastics Shaped Postwar Bodies. Additionally, Isabelle is curating exhibitions and programming events for the Institute that explore science, material culture, and the body.
Isabelle earned her PhD from the Victoria and Albert Museum and Royal College of Art’s doctoral program in history of design. She has worked as a lecturer in cultural and historical studies at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, as well as the University for the Creative Arts, and in history of design at the Royal College of Art. Isabelle has given invited talks nationally and internationally at institutions including the Smithsonian and the University of Gothenburg and was recently interviewed for NPR’s The Pulse. Her writing is featured in publications including Design Issues, The Towner, Under the Influence, and Baron Books.
About Fellow in Focus
The Rohm and Haas Fellow in Focus Lecture series gives the Institute’s scholars an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience interested in history, science, and culture. Fellow in Focus lectures are presented by the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry.