Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bella's Report on Female Inventors

My friend Bella wrote a few words to remind us that the invention process is not just ‘a man’s world’. She’ll get no argument from me.


If you often find yourself sitting in your car, windshield wipers wiping the rain out of your way and your morning coffee in hand, then you have women to thank.

They’re the inventors you’ve likely never heard of, but they’ve changed our world in so many completely integral and often crucial ways, that their virtual anonymity is a travesty of our modern world.

But Melitta Bentz’s Coffeemakers and Mary Anderson’s windshield wipers aren’t the only things women have done to change our world. Admittedly many of the female inventions centre around the home, reflecting society’s decision to keep women tied to the kitchen and to children, but there were also some stunningly revolutionary inventions centering around science and technology that we owe entirely to the wonderful female mind.

In 1809, Mary Dixon Kels was the first woman to receive a U.S Patent - for making hats! Her new process for weaving straw with silk or thread improved the hat making process, providing an opportunity for American industries to replace the loss of European goods after Napoleon had blocked trade to the New World.

But it was actually Sybilla Masters who is the first American female inventor in recorded history. As early as 1715, this amazing woman invented a way for cleaning and curing the corn that was given to the Colonists by the Native American’s, and had to be patented under her husband’s name due to the rule that women could not own patents at the time.

Since this landmark event, the world has changed rapidly to accept women as equals in society, and female inventors have carved this path alongside the famous feminists we all know so well, and perhaps one reason for this is the sheer importance of the inventions they designed.

For instance, in 1871 Martha Coston invented a pyrotechnic flare called ‘Night Signals’ allowing ships to communicate messages at night - making ship to ship and ship to shore communication possible for the first time. Her idea was purchased by the U.S Navy and became known as Maritime Signal Flares - an integral invention to the maritime world still used extensively today.

Perhaps one inventor that you may have heard of before is Marie Curie - the two time nobel prize winner, scientist and inventor. Before her death in 1934 of leukemia she studied x-rays and discovered that they could kill tumors. This Polish scientist was the first person to discover Radium and Polonium, and it was her extensive investigation into these radioactive materials and their medical uses that led to her cancerous death - literally sacrificing her life to make huge developments in the medical world that we know so well today.

The medical world also owes laser eye surgery to Patricia Bath, who, in 1988 became the first black female doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention. Her method for removing cataracts transformed eye surgery as we know it today by using a laser, making the entire process far more accurate, and therefore not only more effective, but safer.

We also owe our victory in WW2 to a movie star named Hedy Lamarr. This multi-talented woman invented a system that manipulated radio frequencies, making the possibility to communicate in an unbreakable code a possibility for the first time.

Even the computer world has been transformed for the better by women, with Grace Murray Hopper inventing the first computer compiler, affecting the way software is written and ensuring it is no longer a time consuming process. She also developed OBOL - the first user friendly computer software program, altering the way people interact with computers to this day.

In fact, there are so many female inventors that to name them all would take far too long! The interesting thing to note, however, is how their consistent presence in a predominantly male world has earned women worldwide a greater deal of respect as equals by the opposite sex. Although we often only thank the revolutionary feminists, carving out a path of equality with demonstrations and court actions, it is important to research and fully understand the forgotten inventors that we take advantage of each and every day.

From disposable diapers and ironing boards to the isolation of human stem cells and a safe alternative to asbestos, women have affected an otherwise male world with immense revolutionary transformations, earning women worldwide a greater deal of equality and ensuring that today women are able to be properly educated and invent with complete support, rather than complete skepticism.

I for one, as a female writer sitting here in the modern world, have an awful lot to give thanks for - and it’s a real shame to me that these pioneering women have been so largely forgotten - perhaps a sign that our job is not yet done and the male world is still a little insecure about their position in a time when women are proving themselves to be undeniably great over and over again, day after day, decade after decade.

Yours, Bella

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