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A Short History of Women Inventors and Scientists

This is an excerpt of The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, as part of Neatorama's review (and giveaway contest) for the book.

Even though it’s said that "necessity is the mother of invention," women's contribution to inventing and science have been, in the past, often overlooked. It's likely women have been using their creativity and intelligence to engineer new ideas and products since the beginning of human experience, but nobody really kept track of such things until a few years ago. Below we've assembled some of our favorite daring women inventors, scientists, and doctors - from Nobel Prize winners to crafters of practical devices, from women who revolutionized the way diapers were changed to women whose revolutionary ideas changed the world.

1715
Sybilla Masters became the first American women inventor in recorded history, though in accordance with the laws of the time, her patent for "Cleansing Curing and Refining of Indian Corn Growing in the Plantations" was issued in her husband Thomas' name by the British courts. Her husband was issued a second patent for another of her inventions, entitled "Working and Weaving in a New Method, Palmetta Chip and Straw for Hats and Bonnets and other Improvements of that Ware."

1870
Martha Knight
patents a machine to produce flat-bottomed paper bags. She also becomes the first woman in the United States to fight and win a patent suit, when she defended her patent against a man who had stolen her design and filed for his own patent on it. He claimed a woman couldn't possibly have the mechanical knowledge needed to invent such a complex machine, but Knight was able to back up her claim. After her success, she went on to develop and patent several other machines, including rotary machines and automatic tools.

1885
Sarah E. Goode
, born a slave in 1850, obtains the first patent by an African American woman inventor for her folding cabinet bed, a space-saver that when folded up could be used as a desk, complete with compartments for stationery and writing supplies.

1889
Josephine Garis Cochran
, of Shelbyville, Illinois, invents the first working automatic dishwasher. Her invention was first shown at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois, and eventually went on to become associated with the KitchenAid company.

1903
Mary Anderson
, of Alabama, invents the windshield wiper. Patented in 1905, windshield wipers became standard equipment on cars a decade later.

Scientist Marie Curie is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery of the radioactive elements radium and polonium. She is awarded the Nobel Price for Chemistry in 1911, making her the first person to win two Nobel prizes.

1914
Mary Phelps Jacob
invents the modern bra. She was inspired to fashion a comfortable upper-body undergarment after becoming fed up with restrictive corsets. Her brassiere, made from two silk handkerchiefs and a ribbon, became so popular that after she patented the invention, she went on to sell it to the Warner Corset Company.

1941
The actress Hedy Lamarr invents (along with George Anthiel) a "Secret Communications System" to help combat the Nazi in World War II.

1950
Marion Donovan
invents the disposable diaper. When established manufacturers show little interest in this invention, she starts her own company, Donovan Enterprises, which she sells along with her diaper patent to Keko Corporation in 1951 for one million dollars.

1951
Bette Nesmith
invents Liquid Paper, a quick-drying white liquid painted onto paper to correct mistakes. She was a secretary in Texas when she hit upon her invention, which became so successful it grew into the Liquid Paper Company. (Fun fact: Her son, Michael Nesmith, grew up to be a member of the 1960s rock group the Monkees.)

1952
Mathematician and U.S. naval officer Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper invents the computer compiler, which revolutionized computer programming. She and her team also developed the first user-friendly business computer programming language, COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language).

1964
Chemist Stephanie Louise Kwolek invents Kevlar, a polymer fiber that is five times stronger than the same weight of steel and is now used in bulletproof vests, helmets, trampolines, tennis rackets, tires, and many other common objects.

1983
Barbara McClintock
, an American scientist and cytogeneticist, becomes the first woman to win, unshared, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, for her discovery of a genetic mechanism called transposition.

1984
Frances Gabe
invents the self-cleaning house. Each room of the house has a 10-inch square "Cleaning/ Drying/ Heating/ Cooling" device on the ceiling. At the push of a button, the cleaning unit sends a powerful spray of soapy water around the room and then rinses and blow-dries everything. Each room has a sloped floor to aid the water drainage, and all valuable objects and other things that should not get wet are stored under glass. The house, in the woods of Oregon, also has self-cleaning sinks, bathtubs, and toilets; a cupboard that doubles as a dishwasher; and closets that can clean and dry the clothes hung inside them.

1993
Ellen Ochoa
becomes the first Hispanic female astronaut in space. The veteran of three space flights, who has logged over 719 hours in space, is also an electrical engineer with patents on high-tech optical recognition systems and optical systems for spacecraft automation.

The Daring Book for Girls is the perfect book for any girls with an eye for adventure and a nose for trouble!

For every girl with an independent spirit, here is the guide to everything from school yard games to great women in history! The Daring Book for Girls is the essential manual for everything that girls need to know - and that doesn't mean sewing buttonholes! Whether readers consider themselves girly-girls, brainiacs, atheletes, or a little bit of everything, this book is the girl's invitation to 21st century adventure.

Reviewed on Neatorama here (with FREE book giveaway!)


Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Me gusta que tengan una paguina de mujeres inventoras pues no toman mucho en cuenta las injusticias que ocurrian antes con las mujeres. auque me gustaria que la pagina fuera en español
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Nice article. Thank you for writing it.

There's a nice book with vignettes from Math history that features lots of women. My blog has a review of the book:

http://wildaboutmath.com/2007/11/14/math-history-made-fun/
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@Alex:
1. Thanks for the answer on the tie-in to the Iggulden boy's book. It looks like they gave permission, probably after a lot of £ changed hands.
2. The *version* of the book being promoted, is the US edition. There is also at least a UK version as well & maybe more. If it is like the Iggulden "DBfB", the heroes listed are biased toward the target country. Nothing wrong with this -- it's a fine idea for the young readers to read about heroes they can more easily personally identify with. Some, like Marie Curie, are big enough "stars" that they will be in EVERY edition of course...
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@C #6: This post is an excerpted article with the same title from a book that is sold in the United States. Naturally, the title simply said Women Inventors while listing mostly US women.

I'll try to remember that Neatorama has international readers - but the bulk of the blog's audience remains from the US.
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