March is Women’s History Month, and is observed across the globe as a “celebration of the vital role of women in history.” Each year, historians and scholars uncover more and more names and stories of historic women who deserve to be placed among the prominent figures that have shaped and defined the development of our country and our world. Let’s take a look a just a few of the women who made amazing contributions in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Mary Golda Ross, Aerospace Engineer (1908-2008)
If you haven’t seen the face of Mary Golda Ross before, you may see it soon—on a special $1 U.S. coin designed to commemorate her achievements as one of the first American Indian women in the field of space exploration. Ross was born in Oklahoma in the early 20th century. She raised according to the traditions of the Cherokee Nation, which promoted equal educational opportunities for girls and boys.
A brilliant mathematician, Ross mastered the ability to carry out complex calculations and equations required in the field of aerospace science. She pursued a master’s degree in astronomy, and began working for Lockheed Martin in 1942, designing the P-38 fighter plane. She soon went on to become the only female and only Native American member of a top-secret think tank at Lockheed, which carried out missions and programs that are largely still classified to this day. Her projects included design concepts for interplanetary space travel, orbiting satellites, and the American missile defense program. In addition, her work on spacecraft operational requirements became a crucial part of what later became the Apollo program.
Marie Van Brittan Brown, Inventor (1922-1999)
A lifelong resident of Queens, New York, Marie Van Brittan Brown was motivated to improve the security of her own home in a neighborhood that had a high crime rate in the 1960s. While continuing to work as a nurse, Brown invented the first home security system, together with her husband Albert. The invention was patented in 1966. The surveillance system paved the way for current-day CCTV home security. It was the first ever to incorporate camera monitoring, a remote-controlled lock, a two-way microphone allowing direct voice communication with someone at the door, and an alarm button to immediately notify the police of a potential intruder. The invention won awards. Plus, the same patented design is still in use today in small offices, apartment buildings, and single-family homes. Brown was recognized for her achievements with an award from the National Scientists Committee. Today, she is celebrated as an important figure in the history of African American scientific and technological achievements.
Ada Lovelace, Mathematician
Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was an English mathematician who worked with Charles Babbage on his prototype of a digital computer in the mid-19th century. She was largely self-educated and trained by tutors, then by a famous logician and mathematician of the University of London.
As a young woman, she became fascinated by the “Analytical Engine” being developed by Babbage. She wrote at that time that this early computing machine wove algebraic patterns like “the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” She developed the first program for the prototype. Since, she has been dubbed the first computer programmer. In fact, one of the early computer languages, developed in the early 1980s by the U.S. Department of Defense, was named after her: ADA. Lovelace’s legacy may even overshadow that of her father, none other than the famed poet Lord Byron.
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