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Leading Ladies
Female Inventors

Leading Ladies
  • Women Workers Today (by )
  • Proceedings of the International Patent ... (by )
  • Coffee (by )
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Although there have been many female scientists and inventors throughout history, a recent, major push for equality paves the way for more women to enter professions previously perceived as ideal for men.

In Women Workers Today (1976), the Women’s Bureau, United States writes, “Women are less likely than men to be managers and administrators, and represent only about one-fifth of these workers. They are, however, 78 percent of all clerical workers” (p. 7).

That’s certainly not the case today. Women now embrace all types of professions from engineers to chemists to gamers. “Invention for me is a mixture of magic, science, and necessity,” says Jennipher Adkins, inventor of Jenny Capp head garments. She also holds four patents. 

In 2015, software developer Isis Anchalee created the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign on social media. Her mission was to challenge stereotypes and promote diversity around underrepresented groups, including women in engineering. 

Long before this movement gained traction, many notable female inventors and scientists helped pave the way to success. Film star Hedy Lamarr, who starred in Algiers and Samson and Delilah, developed an interest in spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology. The screen siren thought her husband, Friedrich Mandl, prevented her from advancing her acting career. The couple divorced in 1937. 

At the onset of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil teamed up to develop a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. It used a code to synchronize random frequencies with a receiver and transmitter. Although the U.S. Navy didn’t implement the technology until the 1960s, the principles of Lamarr and Antheil’s work are currently used in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. In 2014, they were posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame
Well before Lamarr’s contribution, Margaret E. Knight was dubbed “the lady Edison” when she evolved from textile mill worker to inventor at a time when Thomas Edison was America’s preeminent inventor. After a colleague was injured by a faulty piece of equipment, Knight invented a safety device for the loom. Although it was used and later adopted by other mills, Knight never patented the invention. Her first patent was awarded in 1871 for a machine that cut, folded, and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags that were previously assembled by hand.  The original machine is housed in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

In Proceedings of the International Patent Office Workshop on Information Retrieval, the U.S. Patent Office, Patent Office Society, and National Science Foundation writes, 

Whereas the patent grant is a traditional incentive for the promotion of the progress of the useful arts thereby contributing notably to the well-being of people everywhere; and Whereas encouragement of invention is essential to the continued economic and technological development of this Nation, particularly in the light of our international relationships and obligations.

In 1908, Germany’s Melitta Bentz invented paper drip brew coffee filters, widely used by baristas worldwide. She patented her invention and launched her own company. The book Coffee states, “The United States, on the other hand, has, for many years, been the chief coffee consumer, her consumption in 1907 being 985,000,000 pounds, or, virtually one-half of the total for the entire world. It was certainly good timing for Bentz” (p. 866).

Unsung heroine of office workers around the world, American Bette Nesmith Graham, an executive secretary, graphic artist, and mother of Michael Nesmith of The Monkees fame, borrowed a technique from window painters to correct typing errors. With the help of her son’s chemistry teacher to make improvements to her typewriter correction fluid, she launched Liquid Paper in the 1960s.

By Regina Molaro



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