This month marks the 98th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted American women the right to vote. Since long before 1920, women have been shaping progress in all parts of the world, playing integral if underrecognized roles in the development of scientific thought, engineering feats, and technological inventions. Here are just a few of these outstanding women in STEAM, whose stories are sure to inspire the young artists and engineers in your life.
Ada Lovelace, 1815–1852
An English countess, mathematician, and writer, Ada Lovelace collaborated with Charles Babbage on his theoretical computer, the analytical engine. She is credited as the first computer programmer thanks to a publication in 1843, in which she outlined how Babbage’s machine could be programmed with a code to calculate Bernoulli numbers. Though she was estranged from her father, poet Lord Byron, Lovelace exhibited a lyrical bent even in her technical writing:
“The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.” –– Ada Lovelace
Grace Hopper, 1906–1992
Often referred to as the Admiral of the Cybersea, Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and U.S. Navy rear admiral. Hopper earned her PhD in mathematics at Yale before joining the Naval Reserve, and went on to work on the Mark I computer, various compilers, and some early programming languages.
Ready for one of our favorite Grace Hopper facts? She’s credited with coining the term “bug” to refer to unexplained technological failures, after she found an actual moth messing with Mark I’s circuits.
Chien-Shiung Wu, 1912–1997
Chien-Shiung Wu grew up in China at a time when girls were discouraged from attending school. Against these odds, Wu made her way to America, got her PhD at Berkeley, and went on to become one of the most accomplished physicists of the 20th century. She was the first female Physics instructor at Princeton, worked on the Manhattan Project, and made experimental contributions to the work that won the 1957 Nobel Prize.
Dorothy Vaughan, 1910–2008
African American mathematician and human computer Dorothy Vaughan worked at NACA (NASA’s predecessor agency) during the racially segregated 1950s. Separated from white colleagues, she led a team composed entirely of female African American mathematicians that became the inspiration for the 2016 film Hidden Figures. When NASA integrated in 1958, Vaughan went on to become an expert Fortran programmer and worked on launch vehicles.
Check out an Ozobot Lesson about Dorothy Vaughan and Fortran here, for grades 5–10.
Kalpana Chawla, 1962–2003
Astronaut Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian origin to go into space. She did so in 1997, as a crew member on the STS-87 Columbia space shuttle. Chawla was also a crew member for Columbia’s 2003 mission, when the shuttle broke apart as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. Chawla had logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the NASA Space Flight Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, Now
Cuban-American Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski has been called everything from a “millennial Physics phenom” to “the next Einstein.” Born in 1993, Pasterski began taking flying lessons in 2003 and soon started building her first kit aircraft. She graduated from MIT’s Physics Department with a perfect 5.00 GPA, and is now a Harvard PhD candidate.
This list of six is just the beginning. To discover more inspiring women throughout history, check out Beyond Curie, a project that uses design to connect science and society and celebrate outstanding women in STEAM.
Images: Ada Lovelace portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon (1838); Grace Hopper by James S. Davis [Public domain]s; By Smithsonian Institution (Flickr: Chien-shiung Wu (1912-1997)) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons; Dorothy Vaughan, from NASA on The Commons; Kalpana Chawla portrait from NASA [Public domain]; Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski by Cambridge02138 [CC BY-SA 4.0]