Women’s History Month: Women’s inventions men got credit for


Photo courtesy of WallpaperSafari

It is a tale as old as time. A man (of course) stealing credit and being recognized for a woman’s idea or discovery. For years, women were only known to be good for two things — to find themselves a husband and have children. Unlike such icons as Cardi B, married women of the 19th century were expected to cook and clean, while their husbands were out working. Women who were not married were typically in service careers like waitressing or cooking. Women who did not follow this norm were either viewed in a negative light by their peers or not noticed at all. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are three remarkable women and their incredible contributions to society.

Katherine Johnson was an incredible mathematician from White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. You may recognize her name from the 2016 movie, Hidden Figures, where Johnson was portrayed by actress Taraji P. Henson. At the age of 18, Johnson was a math expert and had already graduated from college with the highest honors. At 34, she had heard about NACA, now known as NASA, hiring African-American women to solve math problems. When hired, she demonstrated outstanding effort and dedication to her work. Despite that, she was overlooked by her male coworkers. 

Johnson changed the system by being the first woman to attend NASA meetings that only men were originally allowed in. In 1961, Johnson calculated the exact path for the Freedom seven capsule to orbit Earth and land on the moon, making her an essential part of the team that put the first United States citizen on the moon. Katherine worked for NASA for over 30 years, before retiring in 1986. For years she went unnoticed for her work, with her male colleagues receiving credit. At the age of 97, in 2015, she was finally recognized for her achievements, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. She recently passed on Feb. 24, 2020, at the age of 101.

Agusta Ada Byron, later changed to Ada Lovelace, was born on Dec. 10, 1815, in Middlesex, England. There, she was privately tutored or self-educated and was even taught by mathematician Augustus de Morgan. Lovelace was fascinated by mathematician Charles Babbage’s inventions. The two later met through a mutual friend, Mary Somerville, at a party in 1833. Later that year, Babbage had invited her to oversee the prototype for his Difference engine. 

Lovelace proposed inventing a program called the Analytic Engine. It would be programmed to calculate Bernoulli numbers. Babbage helped build a tiny part of it with the rest of it done by Lovelace, making her the creator of the first computer program. Unfortunately, Babbage is often credited as the inventor because of his difference engine. Lovelace’s contributions to science, technology, engineering and mathematics are honored and remembered on the second Tuesday of October, known as Ada Lovelace Day. Lovelace died of cancer at only 37, in 1852. 

Mary Anderson was born in Greene County, Ala. on February 19, 1866. Many have never heard of her but she is the genius behind an often used invention, windshield wipers. While she was on vacation in New York riding a trolley cart, she noticed how the driver was struggling to see through the windshield. Despite her lack of an engineering background, she used the opportunity to create something very consequential. When she returned home to Alabama she designed a device that would be controlled on the inside with a lever. That lever would control a rubber blade that would move back and forth across the windshield. In 1903, Anderson applied for a patent which was granted. At this time cars were not popular whatsoever, and when she tried to sell the wipers to major businesses, she was rejected every time. 

With the worst luck and awful timing, her patent had expired in 1920 when the automobile business was skyrocketing. Using a design similar to Anderson’s, Cadillac became the first brand to adopt windshield wipers as standard equipment. Because of her expired patent, inventor Robert Kearns was credited with the invention. Anderson had no husband or children but lived with her mother and sister Frannie. Anderson passed at 87 on June 27, 1953. Her invention was briefly mentioned in an episode of The Simpsons in 2006. When Marge says, “Well, a woman also invented the windshield wiper!” to which Homer replied, “Which goes great with another male invention, the car!” Although in 2011, she was awarded some recognition and was inducted into the International Inventors Hall of Fame.

To this day being a woman is tough. Gender equality is still far from being equal with the pay gap, sexism and lack of opportunity. According to The Nobel Prize, between 1901 and 2020, 603 people have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Only 58 times of those awardees were women, making over 95 percent of winners men. There is no quick and easy solution to unconscious bias but maybe giving women the recognition, money and awards they deserve could be a start. Happy Women’s History Month everyone!