Math and science have always been considered “male subjects” as they involve logic and numbers, which apparently emotional females cannot handle. This stereotype starts with gender-based toys that tell little girls to concern themselves with dolls and hair care, while boys get chemistry sets and bricks to demolish. The encouragement, or lack thereof, from parents also has a huge impact on the ambitions of children.
These 10 women pushed past this stereotype and indulged their interest in these typically masculine topics, which led to revolutionary discoveries and a whole lot of firsts. Hopefully the next generation will continue to rebel against gender stereotypes and give in to their passions.
Dr. Patricia E. Bath
The Harlem native was the first Black female doctor to receive a medical patent for her invention of the laserphaco probe, which made cataract treatment less painful and more precise. Her invention has gifted so many people with sight over the years and her research led to programs that allowed people from all financial restrictions to benefit from her invention. She broke down numerous barriers as a woman and Black person within the field of ophthalmology through her positions in education, her research discoveries and with her co-finding of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. In 1993 she was named the Howard University Pioneer in Academic Medicine for her work. She is now a strong advocate of telemedicine, which uses technology to provide medical treatment to remote areas.
Alice A. Ball
Alice Augusta Ball’s revolutionary research into a cure for the Hansen disease (otherwise known as leprosy) was still being used almost 90 years after her passing. Her research studied the effect of chaulmooga oil on patients suffering from leprosy, a chronic infection caused by bacteria. After she died, at the tender age of 24, the “Ball Method” was refined and ended up treating many patients successfully. However, she never received recognition for her contributions, as the credit was given to those who added to her work later on.
Alice was the first African-American and the first woman to graduate with a masters in chemistry from the University of Hawaii in 1914. A year after her graduation, she was also the first woman to teach the subject at the university. The University of Hawaii eventually acknowledged her as one of their most distinguished graduates in 2000.
Valerie is a prime example of why little girls should be encouraged to indulge their curiosity in math and science in the same way that boys are. Thankfully, despite all the hurdles her gender created, her passion for science never faded, and she went on to do great work with NASA. Even in university, she was only one of two women to major in physics at Morgan State University. In her later career she used this as motivation to mentor young people at the National Technical Association and Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology, Inc.
She invented the illusion transmitter in 1980, which creates optical illusion images that appear to be real and in front of the two concave mirrors used to create them. This invention has since been used for surgery and in TV/video production. In 1970 she also worked on the image processing systems that made it possible for a satellite to send the first ever images of space to earth. During her time at NASA she held many titles and developed computer program designs to support the research into the ozone layer, satellite technology and Halley’s comet. Her research earned her numerous NASA awards before her retirement in 1995.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison
Dr. Jemison was the first Black female astronaut and she became the first Black woman in space in 1992. She spent 8 days in space, where she conducted experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness. This all started from a fascination with astronomy at an early age, which led to her being the first Black woman selected for the astronaut training program in 1987. When she returned from her historic trip into space, her primary message to the media was that women and minorities should not be overlooked when it comes to scientific developments.
During her career she has been involved with medical research, she has become a member of several prominent organizations and she established the Jemison Group; which researches, develops and markets advanced technologies. Her work has earned her several awards and honorary doctorates and in 1992 an alternative public school in Detroit was named after her.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
The theoretical physicist became the 18th President of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1999 and went on to give the institute’s blueprint a well-needed make over and secure millions in investment for the university. She previously worked as the Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President Clinton, representing America around the world. She also worked as a university professor and researched theoretical condensed matter physics, especially layered systems and the physics of opto-electronic materials. Throughout her career she has been a member of many organizations, won numerous accolades, she was the director of several companies and received 21 honorary doctorate degrees. She was inducted into both the Women in Technology International Foundation Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. As a Black woman, her resume knows no boundaries. What glass ceiling?
Marie M. Daly
Marie’s groundbreaking research into the cause of heart attacks led to a new understanding of how diet can affect heart health and impact the circulatory system. She conducted studies into the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries and also received a grant for her research into the digestive system. Growing up in Queens, she inherited her love of books from her mother and took a liking to science books in particular. She went on to become America’s first Black woman to get a Ph.D in chemistry in 1947, taught biochemistry in universities and championed efforts to get minorities into medical schools and graduate science programs. In honor of her father, who couldn’t afford to continue his education, she started a scholarship in 1988 for minorities wanting to study science at Queen’s College. Over the years she received many honors for her work, including being named fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mary Styles Harris
Mary is known for her influence over national health policies and her work to raise awareness for sickle cell anaemia and breast cancer. She strongly advocates government actions to promote healthy lifestyle habits and runs a successful website and radio show entitled ‘Journey to Wellness’. She has always used the platform of television and university lectures to promote her causes and to get national attention for health concerns particularly affecting the African-American community. Her career started with a study into the makeup of viruses and in 1980 she became the state director of genetic services, which allowed her to direct health legislation. In the same year she won Glamour magazine’s Outstanding Working Women award in the vicinity of President Carter at the White House. The Nashville native also founded a genetics-based consulting firm and ‘BioTechnical Communications’ that deals with audio-visual material on the health issues she cares about.
Dr. Alexa I. Canady
The Michigan native became America’s first Black neurosurgeon in 1981. She graduated from Medical School cum laude in 1975 and fought against adversity to prove herself within her field. Alexa was initially inspired to get into medicine after taking part in a health careers summer program for minority students. During her career, she primarily worked with children, tackling everything from trauma-related injuries to neurological illnesses and became known for her above and beyond approach to patient care.
Just three years into her work as a neurosurgeon, she was certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and went on to become the Director of Neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital. Under her watchful eye, the department was considered to be one of the best in the country. She also worked as a university professor and conducted research projects into her field. Even in retirement, she never stopped working to help children with neurological problems. In 1989 she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and in 1993 her hard work earned her the American Medical Women’s Association President’s Award.
Dr Wanda M. Austin
Wanda is the President and CEO of a million-dollar company, The Aerospace Corporation, who are responsible for America’s national security space programs. She worked her way up through the company handling everything from launching spaceships to working with engineers and ground data staff. She is known internationally for her work in satellite and payload system acquisition, system engineering and simulation. Dr Austin has won numerous awards over the years for her contributions and she was inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame in 2007. She is a key example of where hard work can take you.
Dr. Aprille Ericsson
Growing up in the Brooklyn projects, no one expected Aprille to become the first Black female to receive a Ph.D in mechanical engineering from Howard University. She was the only Black student enrolled in the special progress program at school for math and science and she balanced this with an impressive list of sporting activities, which she maintains to this day. Her research into manned space flight helped her to win competitions and travel the world. She currently works as an aerospace engineer at NASA and is part of their Speakers Bureau, as a way to motivate women and minorities to pursue a career in science, math and engineering. She is also on the review board to ensure diversity during the NASA application process. Her work over the years has helped her to collect a number of awards and prestigious titles, including being one of the Top 50 minority women in Science and Engineering, according to the National Technical Association.