March is Women’s History Month, and the theme for 2013 is “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” In honor of this, eighteen women have been chosen as honorees by the National Women’s History Project for their outstanding and pioneer work in these fields.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics or “STEM” are fields in which women remain rather underrepresented even to this day. So you can imagine just how difficult it was for some of these honorees to succeed in their chosen fields. You have women who were the firsts in their field:
- Elizabeth Blackwell (1821–1910), the first fully accredited female doctor in the United States.
- Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898–1979), the first woman awarded a PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge, and inventor of low-reflectance “invisible” glass, the legacy of which can still be “seen” today.
- Edith Clarke (1883–1959), the first women to earn an MS in Electrical Engineering from MIT, inventor of the Clarke Calculator and author of an influential textbook on power engineering.
- Julia Morgan (1872–1957), the first woman architect licensed in California, most famous in her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
- Mary G. Ross (1908–2008), the first woman engineer at Lockheed’s Missiles Systems Division, designing systems for human space flight and missions to Mars and Venus.
Other honorees, while perhaps not always first in their field, did manage to change all our lives by virtually eliminating certain diseases:
- Hattie Elizabeth Alexander (1901-68) developed an anti-influenzal serum, effectively eliminating infant mortality from fatal meningitis.
- Louise Pearce (1885–1959) helped develop the cure for African Sleeping Sickness, and made a solo trip to the Belgian Congo in 1920 to test it.
The last of those honorees who have passed on represent the wide range of STEM fields from which women can excel.
- Dian Fossey (1932–1985) is the author of “Gorillas in the Mist,” detailing her 18 years with the primates in Rwanda, and inspiring a movie of the same name.
- Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992) was a rear admiral in the US Navy, one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark 1 Computer. She wrote the first programming compiler and conceptualized COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.
The rest of this year’s honorees are still with us, and their efforts to improve lives and further STEM fields continues.
- Marlyn Barrett (1954) is a project director for a math and science partnership grant involving 14 counties and 135 teachers throughout Maryland.
- Patricia Era Bath (1942) invented the Laserphaco Probe, a major milestone in laser cataract surgery, becoming the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose.
- Rita R. Colwell (1934) was the first female director of the National Science Foundation. Her award-winning work focuses on water-borne diseases.
- Susan A. Gerbi (1944) is the George Eggleston Professor of Biochemistry at Brown University, and her research team devised a method to map the start site of DNA replication at the nucleotide level.
- Helen Greiner (1967) co-founded the leader in consumer and military robots, the iRobot Corporation.
- Olga Frances Linares (1936) is a senior staff scientist (emerita) at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
- Jill Pipher (1955) is director of the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, an NSF-funded institute.
- Susan Solomon (1956) is the atmospheric chemist whose research on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the Antarctic ozone hole was part of the impetus beind the international treaty regulating such damaging chemicals.
- Flossie Wong-Staal (1946), as one of the world’s foremost authorities in virology, deciphered the structure of the HIV virus as the cause of AIDS, as well as mapping the genetic structure of HIV to make it possible to create HIV tests.
Clearly we need more women like these in the STEM fields, and we are all much better off for these honorees and their work.