And now, go a little deeper into the stories of eight amazing women and their inventions.
Tabitha Babbitt was a female member of a Shaker community in Harvard, Massachusetts. Shaker culture dictates that the work of the communal-style living be split equally between men and women, so Ms. Babbitt was no stranger to rolling up her sleeves and digging in. As well as being a hard worker, Tabitha was a weaver by trade.
Going about her work in 1810, she noticed how difficult it was to cut wood using a two-person pit saw. The back-and-forth motion was only effective moving forward.
Ms. Babbitt came up with the idea of attaching a circular blade to her spinning wheel so the saw continually cut when it moved. Her innovative idea lightened the load for hard-working logging crews. Because of her Shaker beliefs, she never applied for a patent for the invention, but she made a difference that’s still felt today.
Dr. Patricia Bath has been breaking ground her entire life. She was the first African-American to serve as an ophthalmology resident at New York University and the first woman on staff at the Jules Stein Eye Institute. She was also the first African-American female doctor to receive a patent for medical purposes. That patent was for the Laserphaco Probe, a medical device she invented in 1981.
The device uses laser technology to quickly and painlessly dissolve cataracts in the eye to make inserting a replacement lens very easy. The device is now widely in use and has restored the eyesight of people who had been blinded by cataracts for decades.
A lifelong advocate for social justice, Dr. Bath strongly felt that “eyesight is a basic human right,” and went on to co-found the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.
Josephine Cochrane’s pedigree was one of high society. But she also had some STEM — and some innovation — in her bloodline, as her father was John Fitch, the inventor of the steamboat.
Thanks to her family, Josephine had a high-caliber social life — and the expensive belongings to match. She hated the fact that so much of her precious china was broken by her household help when cleaning. So tapping into her problem-solving genes, she designed the first automatic dishwasher.
Josephine’s machine consisted of a wooden flywheel placed in a copper boiler. It could be turned by hand or with a pulley, spinning the secured dishes in soapy water. She unveiled the device at the 1893 World’s Fair to the delight of restaurant owners and homemakers everywhere. She went on to found KitchenAid®.
Dr. Shirley Jackson’s research and inventions are behind quite a lot of modern technology. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from M.I.T. with any doctorate — hers was in particle physics. Her work and research fostered all kinds of amazing advances in telecommunications. She gets much credit for the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, caller I.D. and call waiting. But her research around fiber-optic cables at Bell Labs during the 1970s is considered among her greatest contributions.
In recognition of her prolific innovations, Dr. Jackson was named one of the Top 50 Women in Science by Discover Magazine in 2002. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame not only for her scientific achievements but also for her advocacy of education and science.
At a time when there were almost no female scientists at NASA, American aerospace engineer Jeanne L. Crews joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and changed the world. She designed a “space bumper” that could protect satellites and manned spacecraft from damaging debris and meteorites.
Before Jeanne, NASA used aluminum shielding to try to break up debris, but because the aluminum broke at every impact, it just wound up creating even more debris. Jeanne discovered that four layers of a ceramic fabric normally used to line furnaces, separated by some air space, broke the debris into very small, harmless pieces without shredding itself. As more and more “space junk” accumulates every year, Jeanne’s bumper is literally a life-saver for astronauts.
Born in 1923, Ms. Kwolek stood a mere 4’ 11”. But she was a giant in the world of science.
She graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology with a degree in chemistry. In 1965, while working at the DuPont Company in Wilmington, Delaware, she was assigned the task of improving radial tires. She discovered a combination of polymers that was both lightweight and incredibly strong … five times stronger than steel.
The fiber was named DuPont Kevlar.
Kevlar went on to be used in bulletproof vests, helmets and other types of body armor, saving thousands, if not millions, of lives. Kevlar also has dozens of other applications, including boats, airplanes, spacecraft, fiber-optic cables and skis. Said Ms. Kwolek, “There are very few people in their careers that have the opportunity to do something to benefit mankind.” She certainly did.
Born in London in 1815, Ada was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron. But most say it was her exceptionally brilliant mother, Lady Anne Isabella Milbank, from whom she got her incredible aptitude for math and science.
Ms. Lovelace grew up quite the academic prodigy, being tutored by some of the country’s most respected teachers. At the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, an inventor and mathematician. As a woman, she had to be incredibly persistent to be recognized as one of his students, including translating one of his papers from French to impress him, and eventually her brilliance succeeded.
Babbage created a steam-powered “analytic engine” that, despite the fact it was the mid-1800s, is widely regarded as one of the first computers. With her mathematical prowess, Ada discovered a way to program the machine with algorithms, an invention that has her recognized as the first computer programmer. She also predicted, more than a century in advance, that people would someday write music and make art on computers!
Marie Van Brittan was a dedicated nurse who worked odd hours and often came home at night in a somewhat dangerous Queens, New York, neighborhood. Crime in the area was on the increase, and so were Marie’s fears for her safety. She realized she would feel less vulnerable if she could see who was outside her door — without opening it.
Working with her husband, an electrician, Marie created a system of four peepholes and a movable camera that connected wirelessly to a monitor in their bedroom. A two-way microphone allowed conversation with anyone outside, and buttons could sound an alarm or remotely unlock the door. The Browns received a patent for their invention in 1969. Marie received an award from the National Science Committee for her truly innovative idea. Her concept became the groundwork for all modern home security systems.
Each week, the winning inventions will go head-to-head until we have a champion. After you vote, you’ll see more information about the inventors!
At the end of the Yes, She Did Tournament, the three communities with the most points will win a local school visit from a female STEM professional. She’ll help empower the next generation of women in STEM by talking about the challenges and opportunities facing women in STEM today.
Thank you for joining in this recognition of world-changing women during National Women’s History Month. And for three communities, it’s a win of another kind.
NMSI is arranging an inspiring visit from a female STEM professional to schools in: