Compared with men, fewer numbers of women have emerged as great inventors in the past male-dominated societies, but the trend and the proportion is changing fast and may even reverse in a couple of centuries to come. More than being a gender matter, it is a matter of genes that counts. Regardless of being a male or female, the offspring of an athlete is a better candidate to run faster than the offspring of a non-athlete. In 2005, Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University, having reviewed 111 studies, concluded that ‘men’s and women’s abilities for math and science had a genetic basis in the cognitive system.’
1. Hedy Lamarr/ Secret Communication Systems
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesier, commonly known as Hedy Lamarr, was born to Gertrud and Emil Kiesler, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary on November 9, 1913 and died in Orlando, Florida, U.S. on January 19, 2000 at the age of 96. In fulfillment of her last wishes, her son Anthony Loder took her ashes to Austria and spread them in the Vienna woods. On August 11, 1942 a U.S. patent was granted to Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey (her married name at that time), approving their submission of the Secret Communication System. The idea did not attract the attention of U.S. Military ships till the blockade of Cuba. She was given an award by Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lamarr’s and Antheil’s frequency-hopping idea provided the basis and prompted the modern inventions like: Bluetooth, COFDM, and Wi-Fi. She was an ambidextrous person, an extraordinary combination of a scientist and an artist. In recognition of her services to the motion picture industry, Hedy Lamarr was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
2. Grace Murray Hopper/ COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language)
Grace Murray Hopper was born in New York City, New York, U.S. on December 9, 1906 and died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 1, 1992 at the age of 85. She got her early education from Hartridge School, Plainfield, New Jersey. She graduated from Vassar in math and physics and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. at Yale University. She is best known for the invention of COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language). It was under her technical guidance that in 1959 a conference (CODASYL) defined that the program should be written in close proximity to English to make it user friendly. She served the United States Navy as a Real Admiral (lower half) and was honored with many awards and a few of them are: Defense Distinguished Services Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Model, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
3. Mary Anderson/ Windshield Wipers
Mary Anderson was born in Greene County, Alabama, U.S. in 1866 and died in Montegale, Tennessee, U.S. in 1953 at the age of 87. She was a real estate developer and rancher, but she is best known for her inventing an automatic car window cleaning device controlled from inside the car known as the ‘Windshield Wiper’ for which she was granted her first patent in November, 1903. She tried to sell the rights through a Canadian firm which rejected the application, responding that, ‘We do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sales.’ After the expiration of the patent in 1920, car production increased enormously, and Anderson’s designed windshield wipers became standard equipment for the automobile industry. No one can deny the utility and value of the invention today.
4. Elizabeth Lee Hazen / Antifungal Drug Nystatin
Elizabeth Lee Hazen was born to William Edgar and Maggie Harper Hazen in Rich, Mississippi on August 24, 1885 and died in Seattle, Washington on June 24, 1975 at the age of 89. She was educated at Mississippi University for Women and was associated with New York State Department of Public Health, Division of Laboratories and Research. She is best known for inventing the first antifungal drug Nystatin. It took six years after filing the patent in 1950 that the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent #2,797,183 on June 25, 1957. The patent covered Nystatin and the method of preparation for the next 17 years. The patent was granted to Hazen and Brown. Lee Hazen had been given many awards and few notable ones are: The Squibb Award for Chemotherapy, The Saras Benham Award of Mycological Society of the Americas, and The Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists. She was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
5. Marie Curie
Marie Sklodowska Curie was a renowned physicist and chemist. She is the only person to win the Noble prize in two different sciences; Physics and Chemistry. She was born in Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland on November 7, 1867 and died of aplastic anemia low cell count in the blood due to prolonged exposure to radiation in Passy, Haute-Sacoie, France on July 4, 1934 at the age of 66. She is best known for her discovery of radioactive isotopes and the two elements, Polonium and Radium. She coined the much used term ‘radioactivity.’ She was a French citizen but never forgot her Polish roots, and it is on this account that she named the element Polonium to honor Poland. Marie Curie was the most famous woman in the world in her time. She deliberately did not patent her methods for processing radium,for the sake of the general benefit for humanity from its unrestricted use for medical purposes.
6. Edith Flanigen
Edith Marie Flanigen was born in Buffalo, New York on January 28, 1929. She is best known for her inventing molecular sieves at Union Carbide. Molecular sieves are crystalline structures with extremely small or micro pores and large empty spaces which enable excellent purification, separation, and refining of petroleum products. She developed more than 200 products at Union Carbide including Zeolite, Emerald, and many others. She graduated from D’Youville College and earned her master’s degree in Physical Chemistry from Syracuse University. She is the holder of 108 U.S. Patents in the field of petroleum research. She was the first woman to receive the Perkin’s Medal in 1991. In 2004 she received the $100,000 Lemelson’“MIT Lifetime Achievement Award.
7. Patricia Era Bath
Patricia Era Bath was born in Harlem, New York on November 4, 1942. She is an African-American ophthalmologist and founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. She is the first African-American woman to receive a medical patent. She is known throughout the world for her great invention of the Cataract Laserphaco Probe for fast, accurate, and pain free vaporizing and removal of a cataract replacing the conventional less accurate and more painful process using surgical drilling. Patricia Bath’s invention (Patent #4,744,360) is a great service to humanity. She was inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame in 1988.
8. Virginia Apgar
Virginia Apgar was born in Westfield, New Jersey on June 7, 1909 and died in New York City, New York on August 7, 1974 at the age of 65. She received her early education at Westfield High School, graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1929. She also graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1933. She earned her Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. It was there that she developed the valuable Apgar Test which made a huge contribution in saving infant lives. The test is known as Apgar to honor her, but sometimes, to explain the essentials of the test it is referred to as an acronym: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.
9. Margaret Knight
Margaret Knight was born to James Knight and Hannah Teal in York, Maine on February 14, 1838 and died on October 12, 1974. She is known as the most famous 19th century woman inventor. She invented a paper bag machine, and her design was stolen by someone who got a false patent which on filing a lawsuit was later on granted to Margaret. She is the holder of 87 inventions including a numbering machine, a window frame, and many devices relating to rotary engines according to a well-known encyclopedia, 2005.
10. Stephanie Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, U.S. on July 31, 1923. She is best known for her invention of Kevlar also known as ‘the miracle fiber’ on account of its being five times stronger than steel. She is one of the leading chemists of DuPont. Another property of Kevlar is that it is light. Kevlar has been successfully used in bullet proofing the automobile bodies and tires. It has been used in sailboats, military motorcycles, helmets, and in the construction of the Gossamer Albatross a pedal airplane for flying across the British channel. Stephanie Kwolek was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995.
Hamlet, referring to his mother’s moral weakness in Shakespeare’s drama Hamlet says, ‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’ Having come to know of Stephanie Kwolek’s invention Kevlar which is five times stronger than steel, one cannot resist saying, ‘Strength, thy name is woman.’