There are many inspiring women in STEM, both historically and in modern times. From cryptology, space exploration, programming, and mechanical engineering, these women were pioneers who paved pathways for more young girls to follow in their footsteps.
Ada Lovelace lived in England from 1815 to 1852. She was a mathematician and considered to be “the first computer programmer” for her analogies and visions of how a computer would work.
Her father, Lord Byron, was a famous poet who left both her and her mother when she was young. Her mother strongly disliked the idea of Ada following in her father's footsteps and encouraged her to follow her mathematical and scientific interests. Her mother loved these subjects and wanted her daughter to feel the same way. During the 19th century, women did not study math and science, but Ada’s mom insisted that her daughter be taught by skilled tutors in these fields. To encourage Ada’s STEM interests, she and her mother visited factories to learn about the mechanics of manufacturing devices, which was rare for women at this time. Here, Ada learned about the Jacquard loom, which is a machine that weaves patterns into fabric based on instructions from a punch card.
Later, Ada Lovelace met Charles Babbage. At the time, he was working on a mechanical calculator called the Difference Engine. She became a translator for Babbage, who only spoke English, and his French engineer. While doing this, she added her annotations and ideas to his work. She developed an analogy between the Analytical Engine, which was a more advanced mechanical calculator, and a weaving machine. She compared how they both followed patterns and code to perform a task. Unfortunately, Babbage didn’t get enough funding to finish the Analytical Engine and Lovelace’s notes were not used at the time.
Later, her notes were rediscovered, and her ideas deemed her the first computer programmer. Contrary to what many people of her time believed, she recognized the real potential of computers, besides calculating numbers. Although she was not able to program in a modern way, the principles she discussed in her notes were similar to how future computers would function. They were a big frontier in the Computer-Science field.
Genevieve Grotjan Feinstein
In high school, Genevieve Grotjan Feinstein excelled in all subjects, especially math. She graduated from University at Buffalo with a degree in mathematics. She worked as a substitute teacher, tutor, assistant to her professors, and delivered lectures on mathematical topics. After this, she hadc trouble finding a job teaching math, but was hired by the Army Signal Intelligence Service (SIS) for a civilian cryptology job.
She worked with a team to decode “PURPLE,” the encoded messages sent by Japan during WWII. In 1940, while analyzing the intercepted messages, she found repeating patterns of strings of words. Her discoveries sparked the development of a machine that decoded these messages. This provided crucial information to the military.
In 1943, Feinstein started working on the project “Verona.” She created a process to figure out when a key in an encoded message was reused. This helped decrypt messages from the KGB, the former Russian Intelligence Agency. This process provided more crucial intelligence to the US.
After working in the Cryptology field in the government for seven years, she resigned and started working as a mathematics professor at George Mason University. Her efforts to decode “PURPLE” were a major help to the United States and changed the course of History.
In 1956, Mae Jemison was born in Alabama but grew up in Chicago. From an early age, she knew she wanted to go to space. There were no female astronauts in space when she was growing up, but she was inspired by Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, who was played by Nichelle Nichols.
She excelled in high school, graduated at sixteen, and went to Stanford. She double majored in chemical engineering and African-American studies. After graduating, she went to medical school, during which she went to Cuba and led a scientific study for the American Medical Student Association. After this, Jemison worked in a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand. She is fluent in Russian, Japanese, and Swahili, allowing her to manage healthcare for the Peace Corps. She came back to the US and worked as a general practitioner in Los Angeles while taking graduate-level engineering classes.
She applied to the astronaut program at NASA but after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, NASA paused accepting new astronauts. The next year, she reapplied and was selected with fourteen others out of the 2000+ applicants. She was assigned to the STS-47 crew and worked as the mission specialist. They orbited Earth 127 times in eight days. She left NASA after six years of being an astronaut.
As the first African American female astronaut, she started other movements and groups to encourage science, math, space travel, and social change. In addition to this, she guest-starred on Star Trek: The Next Generation and worked as an environmental studies teacher at Dartmouth College. Her accomplishments revolutionized the future of young African-American girls.
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