Women’s History Month: Pivotal Female Figures in History You Don’t Know !

Mary Anning


Mary Anning was a British fossil collector and paleontologist who made important discoveries in the Jurassic marine fossil bed. Completely changing the way mankind envisioned pre-historic life and history of the unknown time.

Ada Lovelace


Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician, carries the title of “world’s first programmer” due to her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer. She wrote the first algorithm designed to be executed by a machine.

Marie Curie


Marie Curie’s accolades include creating the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined), understanding the techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and discovering the elements polonium and radium. She was the first and only person honored with two Nobel Prizes – in physics and chemistry respectively.

Lise Meitner


Lise Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission; although her colleague, Otto Hahn, was awarded the Nobel Prize, she was not because of “personal negative opinions”. In 1997, element 109 (on the periodic table) was named Meitnerium to honor her contribution.

Emmy Noether


Emmy Noether, was a mathematician known for her revolutionary work in abstract algebra and theoretical physics; especially in mathematical concepts of rings and fields. World renowned scientists – Pavel Alexandrov, Albert Einstein, Jean Dieudonné, Hermann Weyl, Norbert Wiener – have labeled her as the most important woman in the history of math.

Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin


Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin, a British astronomer and astrophysicist, was the first person to identify that the universe is primarily made of hydrogen and helium.

Grace Hopper


Grace Hopper was computer scientist who played a quintessential role in the creation of the COBOL computer programming language. She popularized the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches. Interestingly, one day while working on a Mark II Computer at a US Navy research lab, her associates removed a moth from the computer; it was stuck in the relay and interrupting operations. Fragments of the moth can be found in Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C in the group’s journal/log book.

Hedy Lamarr


Hedy Lamarr, beauty and brains, helped invented the technology for spread spectrum and frequency hopping communications; the technology proved crucial during WWII as it helped the military control torpedoes. Today, the same technology is used in Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth. She was also a successful Hollywood actresses; some of her work includes Algiers, I Take This Woman, Comrade X, Come Live With Me, H.M. Pulham, Esq., and Samson and Delilah.

Esther Lederberg


Photo by estherlederberg.com


Esther Lederberg was a microbiologist whose accolades include discovering of the bacterial virus λ, successfully transferring genes between bacteria through a process called specialized transduction, the development of replica plating, and discovering the bacterial fertility factor F.

Jocelyn Bell


Photo by Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic


Jocelyn Bell Burnell is an Irish astrophysicist who discovered the first radio pulsars; unfortunately, only her male team workers were awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery – even when she observed and analyzed the pulsars first.


Honorable Mentions

Mae Jemison – The first African American woman to travel in space, aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Barbara McClintock – One of the leading figures in the world of cytogenetics; she discovered transposition and thus that genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on and off.

Jane Goodall – is an anthropologist, primatologist, and United Nations Messengers of Peace; she has dedicated over 55 years of her life studying chimpanzees and is the biggest expert on them.

Rosalind Franklin – Her experiment data on figuring out the shape of the DNA were immensely crucial posthumously.

Dorothy Hodgkin – She developed protein crystallography; a method to determine atomic and molecular structure of a crystal. Her work on advancing X-ray crystallography also led to mankind being able to determine the three-dimensional structures of biomolecules. She became the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Hypatia – A renowned historical figure considered to be the most brilliant person of her time; she mastered in fields of literature, science, and philosophy. Unfortunately, none of her work can be viewed as it was destroyed – historians suggest that she was beaten to her death by Christian fundamentalists.

Valentina Tereshkova – First woman in space (1963). Interestingly, she also volunteered for the one way mars trip!

Chien-Shiung Wu – Disproved a “law” of nature – law of conservation of parity; she proved that law of nature is not always symmetrical. She worked on the Manhattan Project and also became the first woman instructor in Princeton University’s Physics department.

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