With the recent news stories about the darker side of the film industry and the subsequent positive movements that have shock-waved out of it, I think it’s fair to say that we are entering a new time for women (not forgetting the men affected by those stories of course).
This new time promises to recognise our plight, not only in being treated and paid fairly, but it also tells us we deserve to be heard, believed and congratulated on our achievements. This time tells us that to be recognised as a ‘good worker’ we don’t have to constantly prove that we are as good as men in the same job, but that our capabilities stand alone and speak for themselves. This time tells us that when a female boss takes charge, she is a leader, like her male counterpart, not a ‘bossy woman’. And this time tells us that it is no longer acceptable to ‘forget’ women who’ve been instrumental in positive change by giving us important art, inventions or scientific discoveries, for example.
We know that history is written by the victors, and this is why so many female names are missing from our history books – of course women were there, but at the time, they weren’t considered important enough to recognise and remember, so history forgot them. Never more prevalent is this than in the world of technology and in the time-defining inventions that have made our lives better.
Recently, the Polish Politian, Janusz Korwin-Mikke who is well known for his sexist views, challenged a group of bemused female reporters to ‘name one female inventor’ during a heated speech on how women are not intellectual equals of men. So today, on International Women’s Day 2018 we thought we would accept this challenge and provide the list below of fantastic female tech inventors…
WiFi – Hedwig Keisler
You’re probably reading this article whilst using this first example; WiFi. That’s right, an Austrian and American film actress (also known as Hedy Lamarr) designed and created a radio torpedo guidance system during World War II. This system formed the basis of the technology we use today in our mobile phone, GPRS and WiFi technology. When she wasn’t busy being amazing and starring in films, Hedwig worked on her invention with George Antheil, a Composer, and was the first woman to be presented with a BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, an esteemed invention award deemed ‘the Oscar of inventing’, in 1997.
CCTV – Marie Van Brittan Brown
Marie Van Brittan Brown was a New York Nurse when she came up with an idea to make her feel more secure in her neighbourhood, which had become increasingly unsafe. Marie installed a system of peepholes and cameras around her house which she connected to a monitor in her bedroom. With the addition of a two-way microphone and an alarm button that contacted the police immediately, Closed Circuit TV was born. This system enabled Marie to see who was at her front door or in fact anywhere in close proximity to her property. Her innovation went on to win Marie an award from the National Science committee for her contribution to home security.
Solar Power – Dr Maria Telkes
Born and raised in Budapest, Telkes graduated with a PhD in physical chemistry in 1924, laying the foundations for her scientific career that blazed into thermoelectronics. During World War II, Telkes was assigned to the Office of Scientific Research and Development and it is there she created a solar distiller that turned seawater into drinkable water – this invention would revolutionise life-saving aboard rafts during the war. Telkes later worked with architect, Eleanor Raymond and together they produced the first solar based heating system for a residential property. This is the same technology you see today on buildings, in calculators and outdoor lighting which contribute to a greener planet.
COBOL – Grace Hopper
COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language) is a computer programming language developed by Grace Hopper, a mathematician and military leader who dedicated much of her life to the US Navy. Hopper had worked previously on programming the Mark 1, 2 and 3 computers and is even said to have been responsible for the term ‘computer bug’ after a moth shorted out the Mark 2 on her watch. Having proven her technical abilities as a research fellow at Harvard, Grace was hungry to invent a computer language that was capable of deciphering words, so she set to work with her team with the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation to invent the first compiler. This compiler translated words into computer code and was the pre-cursor to COBOL, the computer language that is still used around the world today, nearly 70 years later.
Bullet-proof Kevlar fibres – Stephanie Kwolek
Kwolek had always had a love for dressmaking and fabrics, and even considered a career in fashion design when she was a girl. However, her mother encouraged her to take an alternative path and Stephanie eventually chose to study chemistry and medicine. It was the combination of fabrics and chemistry that led Kwolek in 1965 to invent a fibre so strong, it could protect the human body from a bullet. Named Kevlar, this amazing invention has since saved the lives of military and police officers across the globe, and has been utilised in around 200 applications including airplanes and boats, bridge suspension cables, protective clothing for athletes and even frying pans! Kwolek became the fourth female to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1994.
First Algorithm – Ada Lovelace
Daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace was never going to be satisfied with being the lady of leisure that her born status provided, on account of her amazing mathematical brain. Born in 1815, Ada became a mathematician and writer, vocations that would have been denied to most women during that time. In her late twenties she worked on the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine with Charles Babbage. These engines were mechanical, mathematical computers, but Lovelace saw greater possibilities and suggested that the analytical engine could be fed data in the form of numbers but that those numbers could represent more than just quantities. Ada suggested the data input that programmed the machines, this is widely recognised as the first algorithm – the first computer programme. Lovelace suggested and correctly predicted that with different algorithms, computers could also be made to produce graphics, write music and many other wonderful things.
Well, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, these are just a few amazing female inventors we thought you might like to know about. Which one of these trailblazing technology geniuses you choose as your ‘one female inventor’ is up to you.
In the meantime, you may be interested to know that the 36th Little Miss children’s book has launched today; “Little Miss Inventor”. Designed to promote STEM subjects to little girls, the latest edition to the popular children’s book series from Roger and Adam Hargreaves might just inspire our list of female inventors to grow that bit longer in the next few years. Watch this space.
By Hannah Tomlinson