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December 2, 2014 1:36 PM   Subscribe

#TechTuesday – 5 Amazing Female Engineers That Time Forgot - "There have always been extraordinary women in STEM… it just wasn’t called that in the 1800s."

Archives of the #TechTuesday series at Women 2.0 (About page).

Women 2.0 on Twitter: @women2

via Elly Zupko (@SMLXist)

Previously: girls and technology!, Hedy Lamarr, Ada Lovelace
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
For those interested in more, the Smithsonian Archives has been highlighting female scientists (many from the past and not well known) every Wednesday for over over a year .
posted by ryanshepard at 2:21 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm 100% behind the idea here, but history did in no way forget Ada Lovelace or even Hedy Lamarr.
posted by DU at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yes, is Ada Lovelace really "forgotten"? She was well enough known (and respected as a pioneer) in the 1970s to have a language named after her.

And a bigger grumble the Edith Clarke and Olive Dennis paras are woefully lacking in links to more detail. These wonderful engineers, and the links the article chooses are... the home pages of GE, UT, Cornell? WTF. Edith Clarke. Olive Dennis.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:44 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was it sexism that Lovelace got the worst programming language ever named after her or just bad luck?
posted by GuyZero at 2:45 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always found the idea of Ada Lovelace as a STEM pioneer problematic and/or vaguely insulting toward women - she appears to have contributed very little that is genuinely original to Babbage's work and was forever obsessed with imbuing mathematical concepts with the metaphysical. The whole thing practically screams "women can't be real engineers, but isn't it fantastic when they feign interest?" in a way that leaves me feeling sick to my stomach.

Meanwhile, Grace Hopper worked on the Mark I, UNIVAC, authored the first real compiler despite resistance from her male peers and was directly involved in the creation of COBOL and FORTRAN. This was a woman making monumental contributions to her field and completely capable of throwing down with the hardest of the hardcore nerds in any historical era - and yet she continues to be overlooked by articles like these (the "historical" qualifier is no excuse for her exclusion, as she was born before and died before the last example in the article).

We have both living and historical women in engineering whose accomplishments cannot be sneered at nor eye-rolled away by the legions of hairy-knuckled keyboard jockeys. I understand the "it's not FOR them" counter-argument, but honestly who else are we trying to reach? Because it's either the knuckle-draggers or just preaching at the already-converted...
posted by Ryvar at 3:47 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Grace Hopper was amazing, and I rarely see her left out of discussions about awesome women in STEM. That's no reason to slag off Ada Lovelace, though. If you're wondering why she gets the most publicity, it's because: "Her notes on [Babbage's] engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often described as the world's first computer programmer."

The first person to do something important often winds up getting more attention than the people who would later eclipse them and contribute more. That doesn't mean their seminal work should be elided as an attempt to correct the balance.
posted by gilrain at 4:02 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Nothing should ever be called "STEM" - apparently an acronym created by glomming together unrelated disciplines.

Science is a Liberal Art.
posted by koeselitz at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


(Anyway - sorry, I just start to twitch whenever I see that awful term. But content-wise this is great! Thank you.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


gilrain: ironically, your link is the exact article I read through three times - *slowly* - before writing my post, because I wanted to be damned sure my impressions from college CS courses weren't the result of overly-dismissive textbook authors (which, given that this was in the late 90s, was a significant likelihood).

I'm sorry if my comment came across as an attempt to elide anybody's contributions, because it was very specifically not that. It specifically *was* an attempt to shift the focus toward women whose contributions were a) free from any authorship debate and more importantly b) made directly in the face of an opposing patriarchy, which is awesome.
posted by Ryvar at 4:25 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. I agree that there are many better examples than Ada Lovelace of brilliant women in CS, but I don't think the attention she receives is because her accomplishments are more easily dismissed by detractors; it's just because she was a first, and firsts are heralded regardless of lasting merit.

I do feel annoyance sometimes at her ubiquity. It can feel like she's become a totem rather than an inspirational figure. The 10,000 rule applies, however, and it's always a good day for a young woman to learn the field she may be interested in, but intimidated by, has a woman as its widely-regarded founder.
posted by gilrain at 5:30 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yes, Grace Hopper definitely gets credit in most articles as well. Also, any slagging or mocking in any Babbage story is invariably about Babbage himself. If anything, Lovelace is the hero for doing pretty well with the vaporware handed her by Mr FeatureCreep.
posted by DU at 6:33 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hard to discount Grace Hopper when the conference named for her is one of the top conferences for women in computing technology. Next year it's in Houston and I've already submitted my request to get one of the coveted slots for my company.

Wish me luck!
posted by blurker at 8:07 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: Science is a Liberal Art.

Yeah, so is math for the most part (yeah, you could be a statistician/data analyst or work in finance but a 'mathematician' is usually an academic researcher). I think STEM only makes sense in the context where advanced science/math courses are the near-universal educational pathway to engineering/tech/IT. It's more of an educational term, although those four fields with the exception of biology are all pretty masculine-coded at least here in the 'states so it makes sense to group together from a feminist standpoint too. Either way it's kind of weird to say that someone is a "STEM pioneer" unless they literally made pioneering discoveries in all of those fields.

But I digress! This is pretty neat and while I knew about Lovelace and Lamarr - the latter for both her acting career and her communications contributions - the other names were surprisingly new to me.
posted by capricorn at 8:06 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


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