Throughout history, over and over, women’s achievements have been overshadowed by men. And in some cases, their ideas were stolen outright! For International Women’s Day, we recognize those groundbreakers, leaders, movers and shakers, who were overlooked, ignored, and neglected by the history books.
1. Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist, born in 1920, working in a field that is still today dominated by men. She helped take Photo 51, which at the time, was the clearest photograph of the DNA molecule to date. She also discovered the density of DNA and “established that the molecule existed in a helical conformation.” After her death, James Watson and Francis Crick later won the Nobel Prize for establishing that the DNA molecule exists in a double-helix polymer, using Franklin’s research as the basis.
2. Elizabeth Magie
In 1903, Elizabeth Magie developed and patented a board game called “The Landlord’s Game” which was based on her progressive political values and intended to demonstrate the inherent damage caused by monopolies. Her game featured Go To Jail, Railroad Spaces and a Public Park space. Years later, Charles Darrow discovered the game, made a few modifications and sold it to Parker Brothers in the 1930’s making millions of dollars. Parker Brothers purchased the game patent and Elizabeth Magie never earned more than $500 from the whole deal.
3. Alice Ball
Alice Ball was an African American chemist born in 1892. She was the first woman and first African American to receive a Master’s Degree from the University of Hawaii. In the early 1900’s, Ball developed an injectable treatment for leprosy from chaulmoogra oil, which was previously used as a topical treatment. Her technique was called “The Ball Method.” After she died suddenly at the age of 24, “Arthur L. Dean, a chemist and the president of the University of Hawaii, continued her work, published the findings, and began producing large quantities of the injectable chaulmoogra extract. Dean published the findings without giving credit to Ball, and renamed the technique the Dean Method.” The University of Hawaii did not recognize Alice Ball’s groundbreaking work for over 90 years.
4. Margaret Keene
Margaret Keene was a visual artist, creating paintings featuring characters with distinctive large, round eyes. During the 1950’s her husband not only began selling her work for profit, but also took sole artistic credit. By the early 1960’s, her work gained a huge following, earning millions in sales. In 1965, Margaret divorced him. In 1986, she was awarded $4 million in damages in a defamation lawsuit against him. Unfortunately, she never actually received any money, as her ex-husband had already squandered her fortune.
5. Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Jocelyn Bell Burnell was an astrophysicist who made the groundbreaking discovery of pulsars, stars that emit beams of electromagnetic radiation. Her discovery was made while she was a graduate student at The University of Cambridge, working as a research assistant. Her research advisor, Antony Hewish, and Martine Ryle received the 1974 Nobel Prize for the discovery of pulsars.
6. Margaret Knight
Margaret Knight was a prolific inventor from a young age during the mid 1800’s. In 1867, she began working at the Columbia Paper Bag Company in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1868, she developed a machine that would “feed, cut, and fold the paper automatically and, most importantly, form the squared bottom of the bag.” She soon applied for a patent for her invention. A man who worked at the machine shop where the bag folder was manufactured attempted to steal her design. She took him to court and “swiftly debunked his unsubstantiated claim by providing the original blueprints of the machine’s design and soundly won the case.”
7. Zelda Fitzgerald
Zelda Fitzgerald was a prolific writer, keeping volumes of diaries throughout her life. Her husband also happened to be a writer. He actually lifted entire passages of her diary and put them into his novel The Beautiful and the Damned. Later, while hospitalized, “Zelda began writing the semi-autobiographical Save Me the Waltz and sent a draft to [her husband] Scott’s editor, Max Perkins. Scott offered to edit the manuscript and promptly pilfered passages for his novel Tender Is the Night”. It has been suggested that F. Scott Fitzgerald played a significant role in Zelda’s apparent struggle with mental health throughout her life.
8. Chien-Shiung Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu was born in 1912 in Liuhe, China. In 1936, she moved to the United Stated to study nuclear physics at The University of California, Berkeley. She graduated with a Ph.D. in 1942 and later became a U.S. citizen in 1954. While conducting research at Columbia, “Wu was approached by colleagues and theoretical physicists, Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, seeking her expertise in beta decay. They asked Wu to conduct a difficult experiment to prove their theory that there was no evidence of the law of conservation of parity during beta decay. Wu’s experiments utilized radioactive cobalt at near absolute zero temperatures, which proved that identical nuclear particles do not always act the same way during beta decay. This finding contradicted the law of conservation of parity and supported Chen and Yang’s theory. Both men received a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957 for their theory, but Wu did not receive the same recognition. However, in many textbooks it is referred to as the ‘Wu experiment.’ ”
9. Dr. Grace Murray Hopper
Born in 1906, Dr. Grace Murray Hopper earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in Mathematics. “She invented the first computer compiler, a program that translates written instructions into codes that computers read directly. This work led her to co-develop the COBOL, one of the earliest standardized computer languages,” while working at the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation. She also coined the term “bug” to describe a computer malfunction. “Though it’s noted in history that John von Neumann initiated the computer’s first program, Hopper is the one who invented the codes to program it.”
10. Ada Harris
In 1895, Ada Harris filed a patent for a tool that used heat to straighten hair. Her tool would separate and comb the hair while the heated plates relaxed the curls. In the patent filing, she wrote,”Be it known that I, Ada Harris, of Indianapolis, county of Marion, and state of Indiana, have invented a certain new and useful Hair Straightener. My invention relates to a hair straightener whose purpose is to straighten curly hair and is especially of service to colored people in straightening their hair.” In 1909, Isaac K. Shero filed a patent for a similar device, removing the combs from Harris’s design. He is now credited to inventing the modern-day straightening iron.