In this largely male-dominated world, the role of women in science and technology throughout history has been largely overlooked. Nevertheless, without the contributions of these women, lives as people know them today would likely be very different.
Any discussion of women in science likely begins with Marie Curie. Born in Poland in 1867, she and her husband, Pierre Curie, were recognized for their work in physics and radioactivity. Her work with the radioactive elements radium and polonium led to advances in medical science. For her work, she received two Nobel Prizes: one for physics in 1903 and one in chemistry in 1911.
Maria Mitchell was a pioneer in the field of astronomy. In 1847, she gained worldwide acclaim when she discovered a comet which would later be named for her. She would go on to become the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College, and would later be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
People might not think of Amelia Earhart when considering women’s contributions to science. After all, how much science is required to fly an airplane? Consider, however, that Amelia Earhart did most of her flying in the early 1930s. There were no modern conveniences with which we are familiar, such as GPS, radar, or computers. Aviators in that time had to be skilled in navigation, mathematics, physics, and meteorology. Without a solid foundation in science, Amelia Earhart likely would not have made the impact on history that she did.
Ada Byron Lovelace was taught mathematics at an early age, a talent which blossomed as she grew older. She would go on to work with the English mathematician, Charles Babbage. Together with Babbage, her talents and contributions led them to design a machine called the Analytical Engine. While the machine was never built in her lifetime, the design laid the foundation for the first modern computer. The computer language Ada is named for her.
In 1849, a woman named Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College. She was recognized as the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. She and her colleagues founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. Her work opened the doors for women to pursue fields within medicine.
Women had tremendous influence in science and technology throughout history. While these women represent only a fraction of those who contributed to the scientific fields, their work helped shape the world and influence lives today.