Female Innovators Who Changed Our World: How Women Shaped STEM by Emma Shimizu (book review).

March 8, 2022 | By | Reply More

With so much emphasis on women having a significant place in the world, Emma Shimizu’s book ‘Female Innovators Who Changed Our World’ points to 44 for whom we owe so much. Looking through the list, I have to confess I only recognised two names and who wouldn’t know Mary Curie and Ada Lovelace? Not that I’m necessarily ignorant, more a case of not making the connection to them. I suspect the same would apply if I saw a list of male discoverers and inventors.

Although I could easily have off-loaded this book to one of my lady reviewers, I think its important that the male of the species needs to read this book as much as the opposite sex and a realisation that women are inventive and get the record straight. When you look at the times where some of these women were ignored for various awards, you also get the feeling just how bias things have been in the past.

I should point out that STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics which basically covers all areas of things we live with. A significant observation, especially for earlier times, is how many of these women were doggedly determined not to become housewives but scientists pursuing careers that would better their understanding of the world and, in many cases, products we take so much for granted today. There are also colour twists as with Alice Parker (1885-??) who patented home gas furnaces and their ventilation in the USA and was black which raised a different obstacle of acceptance. This happened a few times throughout this book, although oddly, Shimizu doesn’t cover NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, although with a book and film about her, maybe she though there was enough coverage or not considered an innovator.

I’m not going to detail every lady here because you really need to buy this book but I will raise surprises that I picked up on. Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913) devised the dish washer, made commercially for sanitation in eateries. Mary Anderson (1866-1953) the car window-wiper that actually got refused initially. I mean, rain or snow wasn’t going to stop a car moving, was it? Just in case you thought there was nothing here solely for ladies by ladies, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912-2006) came up with the sanitary belt.

I should also point out that none of these ladies were one-hit inventions and had multiple patents on various products. There are also some lucky accidents such as with Kevlar by Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2004) from a polymer mistake, making one of the strongest materials that has saved many lives since. A lot of the design in railway carriages came from Olive Dennis (1885-1957) that made them more comfortable, toilets and ventilation were down to her.

That’s not to say all of them were perfect. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) wanting to encourage abortion got close to eugenics. In contrast, Alice Bell (1892-1916) did a lot in finding a cure for leprosy, although it was a result of chlorine poisoning that ended her life early. Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972) advanced the Periodic Table into the transuranium elements with a heavy dose of quantum mechanics.

I should point out that that these women come from all nations and you would have to ask had there been better educational standards and definitely different levels of misogyny that prevented due credit being given to them.

The one thing that comes out of these examples is women beating expectations and getting careers in the sciences and being equal if not more so than the men. We certainly need to encourage more women into the sciences and ensure they get due recognition for the work they do. If this book doesn’t convince you of that then where else would you start?

GF Willmetts

March 2022

(pub: Pen & Sword, 2022. 157 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK0, $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-52678-969-3)

check out website: www.pen-and-sword.com

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Category: Books, Culture, Science


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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