Hello, and happy International Women’s Day!
In the spirit of International Women’s Day today, I thought I’d write a follow up post on my IWD post from last year where I talked a bit about Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, and Grace Hopper.
This year I’m going to write about 3 more inspirational women who made waves in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
1. Rebecca Cole Second female African American doctor in the US
Rebecca Cole was born in 1846 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the US, the second eldest of five children.
Cole faced gender and racial barriers to get an education in medicine and subsequently work as a physician, as well as raising 5 children, and spent the majority of her career providing care to poor women and children.
Despite practising medicine for 50 years, not a lot of information on her remains so I wasn’t able to find a photo, although this is a sketch that is believed to be of her attending a lecture:
Cole became the second black woman America to graduate medical school, and after doing so in 1867, she moved to New York to work at Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s New York Infirmary for Women and Children. By 1870 she returned to Philadelphia, and in 1873, Cole opened a Women’s Directory Centre, providing medical and legal services for poor women and children.
When W.E.B. DuBois concluded in 1899 book The Philadelphia Negro that the high mortality rates in black people in Philadelphia were from consumption due to ignorance of hygiene, Cole responded by highlighting the racism against non-white people at that time: that the high mortality rate in black people was most likely due to white doctors not properly caring for their African American patients, especially poor families.
Although not a lot of information has survived of Rebecca Cole, she was highly revered in her community, and remains to be known as a public health advocate, physician and hygiene reformer in the US.
2. Joan Clarke Code Breaker & Cryptanalyst
Joan Clarke was born in 1917 in Oxfordshire, England, the youngest of 5 children. While at Dulwich High School for Girls, in 1936 she won a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge University.
She gained a double first degree in mathematics, however, as Cambridge only awarded them to men until 1948, she was denied a full degree.
As an undergraduate her mathematical abilities were noticed by Gordon Welchman, who had been recruited in 1939 to supervise decoding operations at Bletchley Park, and after she graduated he recruited her to be a part of the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS).
While at Bletchley Park, although she was first placed in a group of women who did mainly clerical work, referred to as “The Girls”, she quickly became one of the few women employed as a cryptanalyst there. Despite holding the same title and doing the same work as her male peers, she was paid less than them due to her gender.
Clarke was the only woman on the team who ended up deciphering the German Enigma Code, working closely with Alan Turing, and the only female practitioner of Turing’s cryptanalytic process, the Banburismus.
Because of the secrecy that still surrounds events at Bletchley Park, Clarke’s achievements there, as well as those of her colleagues Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Ruth Briggs, still remain relatively unknown. What is clear however, is that her mathematical expertise on the Naval Enigma helped to shorten the war and thereby save thousands of lives.
3. Radia Perlman Internet Pioneer
Radia Perlman was born in 1951, in Portsmouth, Virginia in the US to engineer parents and mathematician mother, who was also a computer programmer. She excelled in all her subjects at school, finding maths and science in particular to be both “effortless and fascinating”.
Perlman first developed an interest in a career in computers while taking a programming class at high school, before going on to study mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), achieving a bachelors degree in 1973 and masters degree in 1976.
She learned programming for her physics class as an undergraduate, and as an early computer programmer and student, she became an internet pioneer. She joined Digital Equipment Corp in 1980, and when they asked for her help in their efforts to get computers to share information in a reliable manner, she quickly developed the algorithm behind the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP); an innovation that made today’s internet possible.
During her masters, Perlman developed a programming language that can be used by children as young as 3, and has authored a textbook on networking as well as coauthoring another on network security, and holds more than 100 issued patents.
These achievements in her career have earned her the moniker The Mother of the Internet, although it’s a title she’s not too fond of as, in her words, “the Internet was not invented by any individual”. What we can agree on is that she has made some fundamental contributions to the underlying infrastructure of the Internet.
In a time where the Internet was in its infancy, and the computer science was very much a male-dominated field, Perlman earned a number of achievements that have rightfully cemented her as an innovator in computer networking.
And there we have it, today’s list of 3 inspirational women in STEM: Rebecca Cole, Joan Clarke, and Radia Perlman. Hard-working women finding success and making notably huge contributions to vastly different areas in STEM, in fields where women were (and still are, to a lesser extent) under-represented.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and feel as inspired learning about these inspirational women as I am!
Have a great weekend ♥
Photos in post by Melinda Gimpel, rawpixel, rawpixel, Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash, found photos on Wikimedia, Mujeres con Ciencia, The Atlantic, and feature image photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash