THIS EXCLUSION EFFECTIVELY PREVENTED WOMEN FROM CONTRIBUTING TO PROGRESS IN PHYSICS.
IN THE 20TH CENTURY REASONABLE OPPORTUNITIES FOR DOING PHYSICS BEGAN TO BE AVAILABLE TO WOMEN.
BELOW IS A BRIEF HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF WOMEN'S EDUCATION AND ACCESS TO HIGHER LEARNING IN ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES IN THE 17TH, 18TH, AND 19TH CENTURIES.
In 17th century England following the reign of Queen Elizabeth I women's education suffered a serious setback. Forty year after Elizabeth's death, in 1643 the poet Anne Bradstreet wrote 
Let such as say our sex is void of reason,
Powerful men opposed the education of women beyond reading and writing their names.
successor to Elizabeth, King James I, did not even allow his daughter to be educated. In rejecting such a proposal he is quoted as having said
Know it is slander now but once was treason.
"To make women learned and foxes tame has the same effect - to make them more cunning." 
Women's access to higher learning was severely restricted throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1720
Alexander Pope wrote ironically 
In beauty and wit //
No mortal has yet //
To question your empire has dared;
There were strong male and female voices of dissent against the intellectual subjugation of women. For example the famous author Daniel Defoe
(Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, ... ) who, in 1692, wrote:
But men of discerning // Have thought that in learning // To yield to a lady was hard.
"one of the most barbarous customs in the world, considering us as a civilised and a Christian country, is that
we deny the advantages of learning to women. ... Their youth is spent to teach them to stitch and sew, or make baubles. They are taught to read, indeed, and perhaps to write their names, or so; and that is the height of a woman's education.
... What is a man (a gentleman, I mean) good for, that is taught no more?"
In nineteenth century England and America, the great disparity between the education of girls and boys began to diminish.
John Stuart Mill, a very influential philosopher, was a strong advocate of equality of the sexes.
In 1869 he published his famous essay on the Subjection of Women and asserted that
" the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes - the legal subordination of one sex to the other - is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement."
Indeed in our own times, the end of the twentieth century, this idea is still in the process of taking hold.
In the middle of the nineteenth century in the United States, coeducational colleges and universities were opened. The first of these was Oberlin College in 1837; then others followed - in 1852 Antioch College, in 1860 the Normal School at the University of Wisconsin, in 1866 the University of Wisconsin, in 1869 Boston University, in 1870 the University of Michigan, in 1874 Cornell University (Sage College), in 1890 the University of Chicago. The number of women in coeducational colleges and universities increased from 3,044 in 1875 to 19,959 in 1900. Many of these were studying in state universities. See Table.
Then the reaction to coeducation set in. The University of Wisconsin, the University of Chicago and others decided to segregate the student body and establish separate classes and curricula though the success of coeducation was widely accepted. Indeed President Van Hise of University of Wisconsin admitted that the "immediate success of coeducation in the older of the state universities of the middle west caused it establishment as a matter of course in the newer." Specific reasons given for segregating the women were (i) the rapid increase of women at the universities (general feminization was feared), (ii) election of certain courses to such an extent as to effect the flight of men from same, (iii) objection of men students to the attendance of women, and (iv) the need for a peculiar education for a woman. Reason (iii) was more theoretical in nature.
In 1902 President Harper was able to arrange for segregation of women students in the University of Chicago against the expressed majority vote of the Congregation -alumnae and faculty. President Thompson of Ohio State University viewed this with good humor and said 
References and some recommended reading.
Conclusions on the late entry of women into physics.
Physics is an experimental science. Archimedes aside, it began in earnest in the 16th century with the writings of Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Galileo Galileii. In the 17th century it continued to blossom, and drastically change our view of ourselves and our universe, with the great discoveries of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton and others. Owing to the prevalent social strictures of the time, women were not able to be participants in this process of discovery. The few who had the benefit of private tutors were nevertheless excluded because of the social opprobrium attached to their engaging in laboratory work. Not only were women denied higher education, but those who could obtain it on their own were excluded from participation in scientific societies. The Academie des Sciences of Paris, The Royal Society of London, etc. did not allow women into their meetings. The Academie des Sciences of Paris was founded in 1666 and elected its first female member in 1962. The Royal Society (London) was founded in 1662 and elected its first female member in 1945. These societies were important meeting places for the observation of new experimental results and the discussions of new ideas. Physics has been since the time of Kepler and Brahe a highly collaborative activity. As all physicists will attest, progress is made in collaboration and a person working alone is greatly handicapped by isolation from others having common interests.
The denial of higher education to women and the social opprobrium attendant to their engaging in intellectual activity in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries effectively barred them from participation in the scientific revolution. There were, of course, singular exceptions - particularly in the 19th century such as Mary Somerville and Agnes Pockels. These serve, I think, to show that there is and always has been a reservoir of scientific interest and talent among women. In the twentieth century, finally, this reservoir is surfacing.
Nina Byers, December 4, 1999.