Have you ever found yourself driving down a dark road in the pouring rain and thinking: ‘Goodness me, it’s a good job I’ve got these fantastic windscreen wipers attached to my car or else I wouldn’t be able to see a thing! I just wish I knew who to thank!’ No, you say? Perhaps you opened your fridge this morning and wondered who was responsible for the deliciously cold milk sitting on those oh-so-icy shelves? Another no? Maybe you just took a well-deserved gulp of a nice frothy pint last night and wished you could shake the hand of the person responsible for the sweet nectar that is the modern beer? Who could these people be, you ask?
In answer to your question: they were all women! So join us in celebrating the lives of inspirational women everywhere, and read on for a list of seven underappreciated female powerhouses who changed their world for the better (in no particular order because we love all women):
1. The windscreen wiper: Mary Anderson
Mary Anderson (born in Alabama in 1866) was visiting New York one day when it started to snow. She noticed that the driver of the trolley car she was riding in had to keep opening and closing the windows of the trolley as he struggled to clear his windscreen, so Mary got her think on. She soon came up with a rubber clearing device which could be controlled by a lever inside the car, and was granted a seventeen-year patent in 1903. Frustratingly, this patent ran out just two years before the windscreen wiper became widely used by Cadillac in 1922, meaning that Mary never made any money from her invention.
2. The first effective treatment for leprosy: Alice Ball
Chaulmoogra oil had been used to treat leprosy before Alice Ball stepped in, but without much success. Ball revolutionised the use of the treatment by developing a technique to isolate the fatty acids in the oil, so that it could finally be administered effectively to patients.
3. Kevlar: Stephanie Kwolek
Kevlar is the material used in bullet-proof vests, so you can imagine the number of lives it has already saved. It was discovered in 1965 by the chemist Stephanie Kwolek. It is also five times stronger than steel, proving that women are not simply made of strong stuff, but that they also discover it!
4. Caller ID and telecommunications technologies: Dr Shirley Ann Jackson
Theoretical physicist Dr Jackson was the first African-American woman to be awarded a PhD from MIT, and her research paved the way for a whole host of telecommunications technologies, including caller ID, fibre optic cables, the portable fax, and solar cells.
5. The computer algorithm: Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron, but just as significant in her own right) is hailed by many as the first computer programmer. Working alongside Charles Babbage, who described her as ‘The Enchantress of Numbers’, Lovelace developed the first ‘Analytical Engine’ at the University of London in the early nineteenth century. Lovelace’s algorithmic programs were far more elaborate and complete than Babbage’s, so it was her notes that provided the basis for Alan Turing’s work on the modern computer nearly a century later.
6. The modern refrigerator: Florence Parpart
Florence Parpart was awarded a patent in 1914 for the modern refrigerator, which ran on electricity for the first time. She was also a highly successful entrepreneur, marketing her fridge herself.
7. Beer: Ancient Mesopotamian women
Next time you head off to the pub, raise your pints to the women of ancient Mesopotamia. Beer Historian Jane Peyton, (yes, this is a viable career), has claimed that these are the generous souls responsible for sharing the gift of beer with the world.
Image via Planoly.com