WHTVRINNIT – Ep.050 – IWM Hidden Histories

Today’s episode began life as a series of tweets at 3pm. The inspiration goes back even further to activities I’m involved in at work for International Women’s Month. There’s been so many wow moments, every conference call, which made me ask the question: why is the history of women hidden?

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My journey began with research women’s football for a last minute presentation I was asked to cover where after hours of research, I came across a video about the history of the women’s game that made my blood boil…

Did you now that Women’s Football was more popular than the mens games in the 1920s and the FA banned women’s football for about 40yrs?

Imagine if they didn’t do that.

Women have contributed a great deal to society and our existence and yet their legacies continue to remain hidden. Imagine how many women would’ve linked up and innovated if historically they weren’t silenced by men.

The technology sector owes so much to women pioneers of technology and coding yet their histories and legacies remain hidden. Why?

We all owe it to ourselves to learn and research more, share and celebrate what w’ve discovered to support our young women growing up to see themselves represented in industries that are traditionally viewed as male dominated.

Ada Lovelace – (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852)

An English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and to have published the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as one of the first computer programmers.

Her educational and social exploits brought her into contact with scientists such as Andrew Crosse, Charles Babbage, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and the author Charles Dickens, contacts which she used to further her education. Ada described her approach as “poetical science” and herself as an “Analyst (& Metaphysician)”.

When she was a teenager, her mathematical talents led her to a long working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, who is known as “the father of computers”. She was in particular interested in Babbage’s work on the Analytical Engine. Lovelace first met him in June 1833, through their mutual friend, and her private tutor, Mary Somerville.

Between 1842 and 1843, Ada translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on the calculating engine, supplementing it with an elaborate set of notes, simply called “Notes”. Lovelace’s notes are important in the early history of computers, containing what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Other historians reject this perspective and point out that Babbage’s personal notes from the years 1836/1837 contain the first programs for the engine. She also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. Her mindset of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine (as shown in her notes) examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool. [Wiki]

Marie Curie – (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)

A Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. As the first of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes, she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris in 1906.

She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw’s clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her elder sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. In 1895 she married the French physicist Pierre Curie, and she shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with him and with the physicist Henri Becquerel for their pioneering work developing the theory of “radioactivity”—a term she coined. In 1906 Pierre Curie died in a Paris street accident. Marie won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium, using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes.

Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms by the use of radioactive isotopes. In 1920 she founded the Curie Institute in Paris, and in 1932 the Curie Institute in Warsaw; both remain major centres of medical research. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. While a French citizen, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who used both surnames, never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.

Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at the Sancellemoz sanatorium in Passy (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anaemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I. In addition to her Nobel Prizes, she has received numerous other honours and tributes; in 1995 she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in Paris’ Panthéon, and Poland and France declared 2011 as the Year of Marie Curie during the International Year of Chemistry. She is the subject of numerous biographical works, where she is also known as Madame Curie. [Wiki]

Hedy Lamarr – (November 9, 1914 – January 19, 2000) 

An Austrian-born American actress, inventor, and film producer. She appeared in 30 films over a 28-year career and co-invented an early version of frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication for torpedo guidance.

Lamarr was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and acted in a number of Austrian, German, and Czech films in her brief early film career, including the controversial Ecstasy (1933). In 1937, she fled from her husband, a wealthy Austrian ammunition manufacturer, secretly moving to Paris and then on to London. There, she met Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio, who offered her a Hollywood movie contract, where he began promoting her as “the world’s most beautiful woman”.

She became a star through her performance in Algiers (1938), her first American film. She starred opposite Clark Gable in Boom Town and Comrade X (both 1940), and James Stewart in Come Live with Me and Ziegfeld Girl (both 1941). Her other MGM films include Lady of the Tropics (1939), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), as well as Crossroads and White Cargo (both 1942); she was also borrowed by Warner Bros. for The Conspirators, and by RKO for Experiment Perilous (both 1944). Dismayed by being typecast, Lamarr co-founded a new production studio and starred in its films: The Strange Woman (1946), and Dishonored Lady (1947). Her greatest success was as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949). She also acted on television before the release of her final film, The Female Animal (1958). She was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

At the beginning of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system using frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology for Allied torpedoes, intended to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. She also helped improve aircraft aerodynamics for Howard Hughes while they dated during the war. Although the US Navy did not adopt Lamarr and Antheil’s invention until 1957, various spread-spectrum techniques are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of Wi-Fi. Recognition of the value of their work resulted in the pair being posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. [Wiki]

Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020)

An American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.

Johnson’s work included calculating trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she was presented with the Silver Snoopy Award by NASA astronaut Leland D. Melvin and a NASA Group Achievement Award. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2021, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. [Wiki]

Marie Van Brittan Brown (October 30, 1922 – February 2, 1999)

A nurse and an innovator. In 1966, she invented the home security system along with her husband Albert Brown, an electronics technician. In the same year, they applied for a patent for their innovative security system, which was granted in 1969. Brown was born in Jamaica, Queens, New York; she died there at the age of 76 in 1999.

Inspired by how long it would take the police to arrive in her neighbourhood, Brown invented the first home security system. Her work hours were not the standard 9am – 5pm, and the crime rate in their Queens, New York City neighborhood was very high. Marie started her invention by creating three peepholes in the door to provide access for tall and average height people along with her children. The next step was setting up a camera that could adjust from peephole to peephole to allow people inside the house to look outside to see who was there. Marie wanted to find a way to view who was outside the house from any room and decided a wireless television system would work best. To do this, she used a radio-controlled wireless system that could stream the video to any television in the house. Along with the video system, Marie and her husband created a two-way microphone system that would allow for communication between the family and the person at the door. She also created a system to unlock the door remotely. Marie knew this would only help them know who was at the door or attempting to enter the home but would not improve the emergency response time. Knowing that the police or security response was slow she decided that there must be a quicker way for them to alert the authorities. To do so she invented a system that contacted police and emergency responders with just the tap of a button. She and her husband cited other inventors in their patent, such as Edward D. Phiney and Thomas J. Reardon. Even now, over fifty years later, her invention is still being used by smaller businesses and living facilities.

Although the system was originally intended for domestic uses, many businesses began to adopt Brown’s system given its effectiveness. As a result of the innovation of a security system, she received an award from the National Science Committee, officially making her a “part of an elite group of African-American inventors and scientists.” Brown was quoted in the New York Times as saying that with her invention “a woman alone could set off an alarm immediately by pressing a button, or if the system were installed in a doctor’s office, it might prevent holdups by drug addicts.”

The invention was essentially the first closed-circuit television security system and is the predecessor to modern home systems today. It was the foundation for video monitoring, remote-controlled door locks, push-button alarm triggers, instant messaging to security providers and police, as well as two-way voice communication. Brown’s invention has led to the creation of many new home security systems that rely on video systems, remote door locks, and quick emergency response actions. These systems have become the leading security for homes and small businesses all over the world. The fame of Brown’s device also led to the more prevalent CCTV surveillance in public areas. [Wiki]

Chien-Shiung Wu (May 31, 1912 – February 16, 1997)

A Chinese-American experimental physicist who made significant contributions in the field of nuclear physics. Wu worked on the Manhattan Project, where she helped develop the process for separating uranium into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion. She is best known for conducting the Wu experiment, which proved that parity is not conserved. This discovery resulted in her colleagues Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang winning the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics, while Wu herself was awarded the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978. Her expertise in experimental physics evoked comparisons to Marie Curie. Her nicknames include the “First Lady of Physics”, the “Chinese Madame Curie” and the “Queen of Nuclear Research”. [Wiki]

Elizebeth Friedman (August 26, 1892 – October 31, 1980)

Widely known as “America’s first female cryptanalyst,” in World War I, Elizebeth and William directed an unofficial code-breaking team employed by the national government. During the Prohibition era, she was responsible for breaking codes used by narcotics and alcohol smugglers, incriminating high-profile mob-run rum rings, including that of Al Capone in New Orleans. But her biggest achievement was uncovering a Nazi spy ring operating across South America in 1943—a feat that J. Edgar Hoover took full credit for on behalf of the FBI. Friedman, meanwhile, took her involvement to the grave. [Time]

Mary Jackson (April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005)

An American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. She started as a computer at the segregated West Area Computing division in 1951. She took advanced engineering classes and, in 1958, became NASA’s first black female engineer.

After 34 years at NASA, Jackson had earned the most senior engineering title available. She realized she could not earn further promotions without becoming a supervisor. She accepted a demotion to become a manager of both the Federal Women’s Program, in the NASA Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and of the Affirmative Action Program. In this role, she worked to influence the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, engineering, and mathematics careers.

Jackson’s story features in the 2016 non-fiction book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is one of the three protagonists in Hidden Figures, the film adaptation released the same year.

In 2019, Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.[2] In 2020 the Washington, D.C. headquarters of NASA was renamed the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters. NASA held a virtual ceremony for the naming. [Wiki]

Lena Richard (September 11, 1892 – November 27, 1950)

A chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, frozen food entrepreneur, and television host from New Orleans, Louisiana. On October 20, 1939, Richard became the first Black woman to host her own television cooking show. Her show aired from October 1949 – November 1950 on local television station WDSU.

Richard initially received her culinary education locally in New Orleans, and later in Boston where she attended the school founded by Fannie Farmer. She graduated in 1918 and returned to New Orleans where she opened her own catering business and several eateries. She opened a cooking school in 1937 in New Orleans specifically for Black students. In 1939, Richard self-published Lena’s Richard’s Cook Book. The cookbook made her the first Black author to feature New Orleans Creole cuisine. [Wiki]

Hinda Miller, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Palmer-Smith

Lisa Lindahl was one of millions of Americans who started jogging as part of the running and fitness boom that swept the United States in the 1970s. But as much as she loved running, it was painful because supportive running bras didn’t exist. Lindahl teamed up with her childhood friend, costume designer Polly Palmer Smith, and Smith’s colleague Hinda Miller to solve that problem. They deconstructed two men’s athletic supporters and sewed the pieces into a prototype sports bra they called “Jogbra.” Lindahl and Miller first sold their invention through mail orders and quickly expanded into a successful company. [Wiki]

Susan Kate (February 5, 1954)

An American artist and graphic designer best known for her interface elements and typeface contributions to the first Apple Macintosh from 1983 to 1986. She was employee #10 and Creative Director at NeXT, the company formed by Steve Jobs after he left Apple in 1985. She was a design consultant for Microsoft, IBM, Sony Pictures, and Facebook, and she is now an employee of Pinterest. As an early pioneer of pixel art and of the graphical computer interface, she has been celebrated as one of the most significant technologists of the modern world. [Wiki]

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