March 3rd marked 100 years since the suffragists marched on Washington to give women the right to vote, a struggle lasting more than a 100 years. In 1981 Congress created the first week in March Women’s History Week and in 1987 it was expanded to Women’s History Month. I have some mixed feelings on whether we should even have to have a month dedicated to something so obvious, but since history hasn’t traditionally been very kind to the memory of women and their roles in the past, perhaps it makes up for it a little by specifically calling our attention to it.
The theme for this year’s celebration is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the things women have invented to make life a little easier.
The Circular Saw – in the late 18th century a Massachusetts Shaker community member Tabitha Babbitt saw a way to improve the way wood was being sawed. She noticed that the two person saws used at the time were wasting energy each time it was pulled back, only the forward motion actually cut the wood. She created a prototype of the circular saw, attached it to her spinning wheel and every motion of the saw produced results. It soon became widely used in the saw mills.
The Chocolate Chip Cookie – Ruth Wakefield had worked as a dietician and food lecturer before buying an old toll house outside of Boston. Traditionally, toll houses were places weary travelers paid their tolls, grabbed a quick bite and fed their horses. Wakefield converted the toll house into an inn and restaurant. One day in 1930, Wakefield was baking up a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies for her guests. The recipe called for melted chocolate, but Wakefield had run out of baker’s chocolate. She took a Nestles chocolate bar, crumbled it into pieces and threw it into the batter expecting it to melt during the baking process. It held its shape and thus the chocolate chip cookie was born. Nestles noticed that sales of its chocolate bars were jumping in Mrs. Wakefield’s corner of Massachusetts so they met with her about the cookie, which was fast gaining popularity in the area. And then the rest is herstory as the saying goes. Mrs. Wakefield got free chocolate for life and they have printed her recipe on every bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels ever since.
The COBOL Computer Language and Compiler - “ When we think about advancements in computers, we tend to think about men like Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and Bill Gates. But Admiral Grace Murray Hopper deserves credit for her role in the computer industry. Admiral Hopper joined the military in 1943 and was stationed at Harvard University, where she worked on IBM's Harvard Mark I computer, the first large-scale computer in the United States. She was the third person to program this computer, and she wrote a manual of operations that lit the path for those that followed her. In the 1950s, Admiral Hopper invented the compiler, which translates English commands into computer code. This device meant that programmers could create code more easily and with fewer errors. Hopper's second compiler, the Flow-Matic, was used to program UNIVAC I and II, which were the first computers available commercially. Admiral Hopper also oversaw the development of the Common Business-Oriented Language (COBOL), one of the first computer programming languages. Admiral Hopper received numerous awards for her work, including the honor of having a U.S. warship named after her.” ….How Stuff Works.
The Square-bottomed Paper Bag – Margaret Knight didn’t invent paper bags, but she did improve their design, such that they had a flat bottom and could hold much more than the previously designed envelope style of bag. In 1870 she created a machine that would cut, fold and glue the square bottoms to the paper bags. Knight had to fight for the patent rights to her machine since Charles Anan stole her designs and tried to patent it before her. She won the battle since she could show all the paperwork and prototypes and was awarded one of more than 20 patents she obtained for her inventions.
The Dishwasher – Invented by Josephine Cochrane who was tired of having her staff break her heirloom dishes.
Windshield Wipers – In 1903 Mary Anderson went on a car trip to New York in a snow storm. Upon her return home she invented and then patented her invention of a squeegee on a stick to clear the snow and dirt off the windshield. Within 10 years her invention was on every car built.
Kevlar – Stephanie Kwolek took a temporary position at DuPont in 1946 to save enough money to go to medical school. She was still there in 1964 when she finished her final designs on a strong resilient polymer which is used in many things, including bulletproof vests. So even though she didn’t make it to med school she still saves lives every day.
Just a few of the things women have invented. Enjoy.