Originally starting out as “Women’s History Week” in California during the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1987 that Congress officially declared March as “National Women’s History Month.” To celebrate, I wanted to share a little bit about some of the most notable and influential women in science!
Growing up in Kansas, Ruth Patrick developed a passion for science, even receiving her first microscope at the age of seven. After earning her degree in biology from Coker College, Patrick went on to complete her masters and doctorate degrees in botany at the University of Virginia. Patrick is considered a pioneer in limnology (the scientific study of the life and phenomena of freshwater bodies.) She not only established a fundamental principle of which all environmental science is based, The Patrick Principle, she also founded the Limnology Department at the Academy of Natural Sciences in 1947. Along with Rachel Carson, Ruth Patrick is seen as one of the main catalysts for global concern regarding ecology.
The first African-American woman to study and work as a registered nurse, Mary Mahoney paved the way for women in the late 1800’s, but more importantly, she paved the way for African-American women. Mahoney received her diploma in 1879, along with only four of the 18 women she began with. Mahoney’s strides for women’s rights didn’t stop in the medical field. Following the passing of the 19th amendment, it is believed Mahoney was one of the first women to register and vote in Boston, MA.
Annie Dodge Wauneka
A personal experience as a child altered Annie Dodge Wauneka’s life forever. When she was only eight years old an influenza epidemic struck her reservation in Arizona, killing thousands of Navajos, including countless classmates of Wauneka. Thankfully, she only experienced a mild case, allowing her to care for others who needed it. Upon studying public health, Wauneka was elected on the Tribal Council in 1951. Aside from serving three terms in office, Wauneka had many achievements. She wrote a Navajo dictionary translating English words having to do with modern medical techniques, she improved health care for women and babies, and in 1963 became the first Native American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Making history as the first American woman in space, Sally Ride served as a mission specialist in 1983 on the seventh space shuttle flight, the Challenger. Eight thousand people responded to an announcement from NASA asking for mission specialists for its shuttle flights, and Sally Ride was one of six women chosen. After going to space twice, Ride ended up founding Sally Ride Science, an organization supporting girls’ and boys’ science, math and technology interests.
Helen Murray Free
Born in Pennsylvania, Helen Murray Free hadn’t planned on a career in the science field. Originally majoring in English and Latin, Murray Free changed her major to chemistry in the middle of her college career. This change came after women were encouraged to pursue careers in science following the events of Pearl Harbor and the enlistment and draft that quickly followed. Upon receiving her B.S. from College of Wooster in 1945, Free went on to serve as a researcher, director, and manager at Miles Laboratories. Free made improvements and developments for dip-and-read-tests before retiring. Now, pregnancy tests, glucose tests, and others are readily available in underdeveloped areas at a low cost.
While these women are the ones I have chosen to spotlight, there are many more who deserve endless recognition. What woman in history do you admire? If you don’t have one, aim to be one!