Women in STEM: Role Models from the Past

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Women in STEM series. Today, I’ll be showing some women from the past who stand as amazing role models not just for those interested in STEM, but also for those who are interested in strong and brilliant human beings. I asked the marketing team at Digilent about women in STEM who had inspired them and why, and I got some great examples. I’ll include the reasons my coworkers and I think of them as role models (in captions) and a brief bio of each woman.

 

Elizabeth Fleischmann

WS1982-^Elizabeth Ashcheim (Nee)Fleischman ^San Francisco,CA
Kaitlyn: “I am the type of person who loves school and thrives on structure. Without school, I don’t know how I would have ended up. I also realize that I am incredibly lucky to have had easy access to a good educational system. Because of this I have tremendous respect for those who manage to become intellectually successful without a traditional education. Elizabeth Fleischmann was not raised in a scientific household and didn’t finish high school, yet she managed to develop her own X-Ray equipment.” Image from Jewish Museum of the American West.

 

Born around 1859 to a working-class Austrian Jewish immigrant family, Fleischmann grew up in California. She never did finish high school, but by 1896 had developed her own x-ray equipment. A decade later, she was known as the best radiographer in the world. Upon the discovery of the X-ray in 1895 by Conrad Roentgen and the subsequent sharing of this information over the next 6 months, Fleischmann enrolled in an electrical science course.1 She pieced together her own equipment and had become an expert at radiography within a year. She opened the first X-ray laboratory in California and quickly gained prominence. Like many early radiologists, she perished from cancer, a then unknown consequence of her work in radiography.2

 

Jane Goodall

Martha: "Her dedication to her research and her enthusiasm for sharing it are inspiring."
Martha: “Goodall’s dedication to her research and her enthusiasm for sharing it are inspiring.” Image from www.myhero.com.

 

Jane Goodall is known for her 50 years of work with the chimpanzees in Tanganyika’s Gombe Stream Game Reserve. Since 1960, Goodall has been responsible for one of the longest-running, most detailed wild animal studies (primarily concerning chimpanzees and tool usage) ever done — and this without the benefit of formal training. At over 80 years of age, she still speaks and researches, and is known the world’s most preeminent primatologist.3

 

Caroline Herschel

Norm: "Caroline Herschel is one of my heroes."
Norm: “Caroline Herschel is one of my heroes.” Image from Wikipedia.

Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer who lived from 1750 to 1848. First known simply as the sister of William Herschel, she migrated to Britain after her father’s death, where she worked with her brother for most of their careers. Working as her brother’s assistant at first and then in her own right after his death (she moved back to Hanover at that point too), she discovered a number of different comets and cataloged nebulae. She was awarded the Royal Astronomy Society’s Gold Medal and additional honors from the King of Prussia.4

 

Frances Oldham Kelsey

"I remembered someone who inspires me that I learned about in one of my chemistry classes — Frances Oldham Kelsey.  The reason she inspires me is because she purposefully chose not to approve something merely because it was popular in other parts of the world, but wanted facts and actual results so that she could make an informed decision.  It was through this that the United States was largely spared from the induced birth defects caused by thalidomide."
James: “I remembered someone who inspires me that I learned about in one of my chemistry classes — Frances Oldham Kelsey. The reason she inspires me is because she purposefully chose not to approve something merely because it was popular in other parts of the world, but wanted facts and actual results so that she could make an informed decision. It was through this that the United States was largely spared from the induced birth defects caused by thalidomide.” Image from Wikipedia.

 

Frances Oldham Kelsey worked in academia at the University of Chicago until 1960, when she began working for the FDA.  She refused to approve the drug thalidomide, used at the time for treating morning sickness,for distribution in the United States. The company that sent it to be analyzed never included any test results, and her research found that it caused birth defects.  She went on to chair the FDA and win the highest national honor for a civilian for her work.5

 

Hedy Lamarr

"The people I find most inspiring are those who work as part of a team, who may not get the recognition they deserve but keep on working and doing the right thing anyway."
Larissa: “The people I find most inspiring are those who work as part of a team, who may not get the recognition they deserve but keep on working and doing the right thing anyway.” Image from Wikipedia.

Lamarr was an Austrian Jew born in 1914. Initially rising to fame from her controversial acting career, she was first married to an Austrian munitions baron. While feeling that he restricted her career, she learned about building, making, and weapons (especially torpedoes) over the course of their fairly brief marriage. Lamarr moved to the U.S. right before the advent of World War II. She ended up discussing radio-controlled torpedoes with George Antheil, with whom she collaborated on the frequency-hopping spread spectrum. Their work serves as a basis for a wide array of modern spread-spectrum communication technology.6

 

Ada Lovelace

ADA LOVELACE 2
Amber: “I find Lovelace’s pursuit of her unconventional and diverse interests to be uniquely inspiring, particularly in a time where women’s involvement in the scientific community wasn’t encouraged.”

 

Ada Lovelace was a 19th-century British mathematician who has come to be known as the first computer programmer. The only legitimate child of the poet Byron, her mother encouraged her to pursue her non-poetical interests: science and math. She worked together with Charles Babbage to create the “analytical engine” — the calculating machine that became the basis for the modern computer.7

 

Sally Ride

Brandon: "Sally Ride is definitely a role model to me and to my children."
Brandon: “Sally Ride is definitely a role model to me and to my children.”

Sally Ride was an American physicist and astronaut. She joined NASA in 1978, and in addition to helping develop the space shuttle’s robotic arm, she went into space on two separate occasions. She clocked over 340 hours in space. After leaving NASA, she became a professor of physics at UC San Diego. As one of the first women in space, she tried to encourage interest in space and science by writing seven different children’s books.8

 

Who are some of your role models?

Be the 1st to vote.

About Amber Mear

I was the Digilent blog editor, and now I'm a contributor. I love learning about wearables and writing about social issues in STEM. Outside of work, I can be found watching Netflix with my cat, working on an art project, or trying to find new, delicious local foods.

View all posts by Amber Mear →

3 Comments on “Women in STEM: Role Models from the Past”

    1. I didn’t know about her! She sounds like an interesting, inspiring woman, though! Can’t wait to learn more about her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *