Ada Lovelace, who happened to be Lord Byron’s daughter, was one of the world’s first computer geniuses and celebrated in history of women in science. Sadly, her role is often minimized by male historians. When Ada Lovelace was twelve years old, she wanted to fly. She approached the problem methodically, examining birds and investigating various materials that could serve as wings—feathers, paper, silk. In the course of her research, which began in February 1828, according to her biographer Betty Alexandra Toole, Ada wrote and illustrated a guide called “Flyology,” to record her findings. She toiled away on this project until her mother reprimanded her for neglecting her studies, which were meant to set her on a rational course, one meant for a girl of Ada’s status.
In 1843, the mathematically gifted Lovelace collaborated with inventor Charles Babbage at the University of London. Babbage was working on something called an Analytical Engine, an early prototype of the computer. Lovelace contributed detailed and extensive notes to Babbage’s work, particularly by articulating the way Babbage’s machine could be fed data to complete complicated math problems or even compose complex music. These ideas may mark the earliest recorded proposition for what would eventually become computer programming and algorithms. Today, Lovelace’s contributions are obscured by debate, and most often by the dismissive and unmistakably misogynistic characterizations of her role.
The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was the first computer ever built. In 1946, six brilliant young women programmed the first all-electronic,programmable computer, the ENIAC, a project run by the U.S. Army in Philadelphia as part of a secret WWII project. They learned to program without programming languages or tools (for none existed)—only logical diagrams. By the time they were finished, ENIAC ran a ballistics trajectory—a differential calculus equation—in seconds. Yet when the ENIAC was unveiled to the press and the public in 1946, the women were never introduced; they remained invisible.
The ENIAC, an amazing creation by these amazing women, was not a stored-program computer; it is “better described as a collection of electronic adding machines and other arithmetic units, which were originally controlled by a web of large electrical cables.” It was programmed by a combination of plugboard wiring and three “portable function tables”. One of the peculiarities that distinguished ENIAC from all later computers was the way in which instructions were set up on the machine. It was similar to the plugboards of small punched-card machines, but here we had about 40 plugboards, each several feet in size. A number of wires had to be plugged for every single instruction of a problem, thousands of them each time a problem was to begin a run; and this took several days to do and many more days to check out. When that was finally accomplished, we would run the problem as long as possible, i.e. as long as we had input data, before changing over to another problem. Typically, changeovers occurred only once every few weeks.
Margaret Keane is an American artist best known for her trademark “Big Eye” paintings. They gained popularity in the 1960s. But many people didn’t even know that Margaret Keane was the artist behind the work – they thought her husband was the artistic mastermind. Walter Keane began selling his wife’s paintings as his own without permission in the 1950s. Eventually, Margaret discovered what Walter was up to. When she confronted him, Walter used threat, intimidation, and emotional abuse to force her silence. Her husband convinced her that it was easier to earn money this way. They spent a year arguing, but then she agreed that her husband would sell her works as his for the next 13 years. As the works gained in popularity, Margaret continued to toil in obscurity, while Walter enjoyed celebrity.
In 1965, the two were divorced. In 1970, Margaret revealed the truth to the public. Walter denied her allegations, which ultimately led to a surreal 1986 courtroom scene in which the two were forced into a head-to-head paint-off. Walter claimed his sore shoulder prevented him from painting. Naturally, Margaret produced a perfect facsimile of her earlier works, earning the rightful claim to her works in perpetuity. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is a movie about this story. Amy Adams and Christoph Walts played the main characters. Amy Adams even won a Golden Globe for it.
Trotula of Salerno is one of the earliest victims of historiographical misogyny. Trotula was one of the most famous physicians of the time. She is considered the world’s first gynecologist. Trotula di Ruggiero came from a wealthy family. Her birth and childhood remain a mystery. Trotula was a pioneer in women’s health and specialized in obstetrics, gynecology, cosmetics and skin disease. She wrote many medical works, her most famous being Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. This work was comprised of sixty-three chapters pertaining to the special health issues of women.
The purpose of this work was to educate male physicians about the female body because male physicians knew little at that time. Another work Practica Secundum Trotam was a larger work of a general nature. Her writings have remained instrumental building blocks in our knowledge about human health, and women’s health specifically. And yet, her authorship had been cast into doubt over the ensuing centuries, entirely because historians and medical professionals were skeptical that a woman could have produced works of such accuracy or importance. Yup, you read that right. But this idea was so ingrained in the general public, that many even doubted that Trotula of Salerno existed. This convenient doubt ultimately allowed numerous male physicians over subsequent years to cut and paste their own names over her work.
Obviously, before Caresse Crosby, women had methods of containing their bosoms. Some historical accounts credit one person with inventing the bra – but in reality, the bra doesn’t have just one inventor. Over the centuries, bra design has evolved from concept to concept and design to design to become what it is today. The early 1500s marked the arrival of the corset among women in France. It grew in popularity as an undergarment that helped give women what was considered to be the perfect figure: the inverted cone shape. At this time, most corsets had a long piece of wood or whalebone sewn into the casing. In 1889, French designer Herminie Cadolle cut a corset in two, creating two separate undergarments. The top section supported the breasts by means of straps, while the lower piece cinched and shaped the waist. And the bra metamorphosed once more in 1910 with the invention of the modern bra.
Mary Phelps Jacob, now known as Caresse Crosby, made history for women around the world. Frustrated with the constrictions of her whalebone corset, she sewed together two pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon to create a prototype bra in 1910. Based on its instant popularity, she was awarded the first patent for the modern bra, which she eventually sold for a pittance to Warner Brothers Corset Company, who went on to make millions. Her life was transformed in 1920, with the arrival of a young soldier seven years her junior. This was Harry Crosby, 22-year-old war hero, wealthy scion of a prominent Boston family and nephew of J.P. Morgan. He met Caresse – then known as Polly Peabody – at an Independence Day fair where she was acting as chaperone. He told her he loved her in the Tunnel of Love, she succumbed two weeks later, and after two years of scandalizing Boston high society, her husband granted a divorce and they married and sailed for France. But most women probably celebrate her happy ending.
Candace Pert: Neuroscience Findings
Candace Pert was an internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist who published over 250 research articles. She was a significant contributor to the emergence of Mind-Body Medicine as an area of legitimate scientific research in the 1980s, earning her the title of “The Mother of Psychoneuroimmunology”, and “The Goddess of Neuroscience” by her many fans. While a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, she developed a receptor-binding assay that employed the antagonist naloxone, radiolabeled to high activity, to bind to and detect specific binding in brain homogenates, resulting in the 1973 publication by C.B. Pert and S.H. Snyder in Science, ‘Opiate receptor: demonstration in nervous tissue.’ This was the first demonstration of a receptor in brain, and it ushered in a new era of neuropharmacology and receptor identification in the brain. This game-changing neuroscience revelation was so important that it led to an award—for her professor. Dr. Solomon Snyder was recognized for his student’s achievement.
When Pert wrote a letter of protest to the award committee underscoring her determinant contributions, Dr. Snyder mansplained in response, “That’s how the game is played.” Men like Dr. Snyder have been playing this game for centuries. Although Candace’s scientific work was centered on the pharmacology of peptides and receptors, her achievements went beyond academia and drug development. A shift in her intellectual focus was evident in a 1985 publication in the Journal of Immunology, in which she proposed that neuropeptides and their receptors form a psychosomatic network throughout the brain and body. Internationally recognized, she began to lecture on neuropeptides and their receptors in the broader context of the ‘bodymind’ in health and disease.
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