12 trailblazing women in STEM you might not know about
From advancements in medicine to programming, and even to space, women have been making an impact in the world of STEM throughout history. In celebration of Women’s Equality Day and the commemoration of the 19th Amendment, we’re reflecting on some of the women who paved the way for the innovators of today and the game-changers of tomorrow!
Here are 12 of those trailblazers:
1. Grace Hopper
Also known as the “Queen of Code”, Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and the inventor of popular programming language COBOL. A Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Hopper helped build some of the world’s first computers, Mark I and Mark II. After the War, Hopper created the first compiler, which generates machine language from code.
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in the United States in 1849. Just eight years after her graduation from medical school, the British physician founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, a school for female doctors that also served as a clinic for the less fortunate. As Blackwell’s health began to decline, she turned to writing to help women in the medical field, publishing Medicine as a Profession for Women and Address on the Medical Education of Women, amongst many others.
Better known as Ada Lovelace and daughter of poet Lord Byron, King is known as the first computer programmer. She served as a translator for British mathematician Charles Babbage and supplemented an article by an Italian engineer with her own notes, which theorized the difference between Babbage’s Analytical Engine and other machines. These notes are considered the first computer program.
Antonia Novello was not only the first woman to become Surgeon General of the United States, but also the first Hispanic person and person of color in that position. Originally from Puerto Rico, she is known for her studies in AIDS, organ transplant, and improved healthcare for minorities.
A true trailblazer, geneticist Barbara McClintock was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Medicine by herself in 1983 for her discovery of genetic transposition. In his studies of the double helix structure of chromosomes, famous geneticist James Watson credited McClintock and her theory that genetic material is not fixed, as proven through her studies of the genetic structure of maize.
If you’ve ever heard the term ‘software engineer’, you can thank Margaret Hamilton for that. She coined the term when she helped write the code used for the Apollo space missions in the 1960s and 1970s to describe their work and give more credit to the complex nature of programming her team was doing. When she joined the Apollo team, she was the only woman writing software, though she soon ascended to lead the team—a trailblazing achievement for a woman in engineering in the 1960s. In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, symbolizing “that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space.”
She doesn’t care for her nickname “The Mother of the Internet”, but as the inventor of the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP), Radia Perlman is the reason the internet is possible because of her research on how networks connect with each other. Her work continues today as she is writing a new algorithm to replace STP.
8. Mae Jemison
In addition to being the first Black woman to travel into space aboard space shuttle Endeavour, Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to be admitted to the NASA astronaut training program. After her career with NASA, she founded a consulting firm she named The Jemison Group Inc., which focuses on sociocultural issues in the STEM field and now holds 10 honorary doctorates.
The “First Lady of Physics” Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American nuclear physicist known for her work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, though unrecognized for her studies of particle physics that was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957. Wu’s other research received much recognition and she was even named to the National Academy of Sciences in 1958.
10. Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner, affectionately dubbed the “Mother of Nuclear Power”, is the Austrian Swedish physicist who co-discovered nuclear fission. Her partner, chemist Otto Hahn, was awarded a Nobel Prize for such findings and Meitner’s missed recognition is widely known as the “Nobel Mistake”. She also discovered the element protactinium and had an element named after her posthumously.
A renowned member of the Laboratory Instrument Computer (LINC) team that created the world’s first “personal” computer (PC), Mary Allen Wilkes was the designer of Assembly Program software and co-authored the programming manual for LINC. When the development team for LINC relocated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Washington University in St. Louis in 1964, Wilkes did not move, but was such a critical member of the team that she was given her own LINC to continue working on the program. Therefore, Wilkes is known to be the first person to have a PC in their home.
12. Adele Goldberg
Adele Goldberg was one of the inventors of Smalltalk, a programming language that inspired the graphical user interface used by Apple Macintosh. Smalltalk is now one of the most famous programming languages and has influenced the way we use computers with its windows, icons, menus, and pointers.