When asked to name famous inventors and thought leaders throughout history, most people start to list men: Einstein, Edison, Tesla. But from your home to your car, your smartphone to your eyeglasses, women’s contributions make your life easier and better every day — with breakthroughs that resonate for decades (even centuries) beyond their lifetimes.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. So today, in honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (double-whammy!), we’ve got 4 standouts who helped make our modern world possible. Get ready to be inspired.
Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852)
As a teenager, math-whiz Ada Lovelace — daughter of the notorious poet Lord Byron — met genius and tinkerer Charles Babbage, and soon became his protégée and collaborator. Her notes on his Analytical Machine, published in 1843, include what is considered by many to be the first computer program. Even cooler: Lovelace also foresaw that the potential of a computational machine went way beyond math. If you subbed out the numbers for, say, musical notes, she pointed out, you could potentially write a program to compose music. It’s an eerie prediction of modern computing — 100 years before the first modern computer was built (with another woman, Grace Hopper, as a major player). So give props to Lady Lovelace next time you queue up a playlist.
Josephine Cochrane (1839 – 1913)
The inventor of the dishwasher had a simple goal: to keep her servants from breaking her china. In 1886, she accomplished that goal (and then some) with an ingenious motorized machine that propelled hot soapy water through rotating wire compartments. When the enterprising Cochrane began promoting her invention, she only got traction from restaurants and hotels, but the dishwasher eventually — inevitably — caught on as a home appliance. In the decades since, it’s saved countless women (and men) from the drudgery of scouring pots and pans. Not to mention preventing many a domestic quarrel (and maybe even a breakup or 2).
Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898 – 1979)
If you wear glasses, you’re about to be very thankful to Katharine Burr Blodgett. The first female scientist hired by General Electric, Dr. Blodgett made many contributions to military technology during World War II. But her real legacy-maker came in 1938, when she invented invisible glass. This anti-glare coating is still used for, among other things, computer screens, car windshields, camera lenses, and — you guessed it! — eyeglasses. You could say she’s given us all a clearer outlook on the world.
Shirley Ann Jackson (1946 – )
Dr. Jackson started blazing trails at a very tender age. When she entered MIT as an undergrad, she was one of fewer than 20 African American students (and the only one, male or female, studying theoretical physics). Her research in theoretical physics, solid state and quantum physics, and optical physics at AT&T Bell Laboratories paved the way for very practical, handy things like touch-tone phones, fiber optic cable, caller ID, and call waiting. Not to mention serving as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, among an alphabet soup of other honorifics — the first woman and first African American in many of those positions. Kind of inspires you to get up and achieve, doesn’t it?
We can all be inspired by these 4 trailblazers and the countless women, named and unnamed, who’ve been innovating and inventing and tinkering through the millennia. At Esurance, we work hard to foster women’s talents, but tapping into our full potential is a team effort. This month, we encourage girls and women worldwide to follow in their footsteps. Go forth and change the world!