Is Lessons in Chemistry based on a true story? The link between the novel and the hidden women in STEM

Brie Larson might have captivated audiences in Lessons in Chemistry, but how much of the series was inspired by real events?

Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry
(Image credit: Apple TV)

With it was the global phenomenon about the hidden women in STEM, but how much of Lessons in Chemistry was based on a true story? It’s time to brush those textbooks, as we look at the surprising history that inspired the show.

Though it could have been just another period drama, Lessons in Chemistry was the surprise smash-hit of 2023. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Bonnie Garmus, the TV series was an instant hit with fans of the book and viewers alike.

While Brie Larson might have stolen every scene as protagonist Elizabeth Zott, how much of the scientist inspired by a real person?

Lewis Pullman and Brie Larson in Lessons In Chemistry.

Lewis Pullman and Brie Larson in Lessons In Chemistry.

(Image credit: Apple TV)

What is Lessons in Chemistry about?

For those that haven’t watched the Apple TV series, the story centres around Elizabeth Zott (Larson) an aspiring scientist in the 1960. Despite being on the verge of a major breakthrough, the young woman is forced out of the lab by the misogynistic men around her.

Unable to break the glass ceiling in science, it looks as if Elizabeth must adjust to her new life as a single mother and constantly being shunned by society. Rather than accept her fate though, she pursues her passion for cooking - ultimately becoming the host of Supper at Six.

Set against the backdrop of sixties America, the former scientist is determined to use her public position to change society for the better. But will this make recipe for disaster?

Is Lessons in Chemistry based on a true story?

Though the depictions of sexism and racism are accurate to the time, Lessons in Chemistry isn’t based on a true story.

However, author Bonnie Garmus has revealed that she drew inspiration from the time period and the women in her life. Most notably, her mother who had been a nurse during the sixties and her story is similar to Elizabeth Zott’s.

In an interview with The Guardian, the author explained, "Actually, I had my mother’s entire generation in mind when I wrote the book. My mother didn’t inspire Elizabeth Zott; instead, I created Elizabeth Zott in honour of her and all the other women whose dreams were sidelined by a society insisting they were incapable of becoming anything more than an 'average housewife'.

"My mother had been a nurse before having us four kids. She talked about it constantly and obviously missed it.

"When we were all grown, she renewed her nursing licence and returned to work, winning nurse of the year even though she’d been out of the workforce for decades. She was also an expert seamstress – would have made a great surgeon."

Her story is similar to countless others, with most women forced to become housewives after World War Two. Though some were able to continue working, it is estimated that only a third of the workforce were women in the sixties.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, £11.96 at Amazon

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, £11.96 at Amazon

The bestselling novel, Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, that inspired the smash hit drama of the same name, is available at Amazon now. 

Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott.

Brie Larson as Elizabeth Zott.

(Image credit: Apple TV)

Is Lessons in Chemistry based on Bonnie Garmus' life?

Though Bonnie Garmus isn’t a scientist, there are parallels between the author and her protagonist Elizabeth Zott. In fact, her first novel was rejected 98 times before it went on to become a best-seller.

Having overcome rejection in her own career, Garmus’ determination is surprisingly similar to her main character’s. The novelist later told People magazine, "Only you know who you are, and who you want to become or what you want to do.

"Yet there are all these roadblocks, especially a lot of societal and cultural roadblocks, to that. But don't let someone's rejection of your material or of you be the thing that guides you. Let you be the thing that guides you, that you decide, [for] your own future."

Entertainment Writer