Phenomenal Women and their Contributions in History

By Liseia Parisian, Screening Integration Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan

Did you know that March is Women’s History Month? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Women’s History Month became Federally recognized in 1987 to help bring awareness to the many women who have accomplished great things for the world. Women today can accomplish virtually anything, let us not forget the women in the past who laid the groundwork through adversity so that women of all ages could enjoy these freedoms. Let us take a look at some of these phenomenal women in history.

Did you know that it was actually a Black woman who put man on the moon? According to NASA, Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who made the calculations that helped the U.S. send the first astronauts to the moon. Even as a young child Katherine had an interest in numbers and at every opportunity she would count things such as the steps to the church and the number of dishes she washed. By the time she was 10 years of age she started high school and graduated at the age of 14.

As detailed in her NASA biography, Katherine was selected as one of the first three students of African American heritage to attend West Virginia University in 1940 where she completed her graduate degree. She went on to work at Langley Research Center for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA later renamed NASA) as a research mathematician. Her vast knowledge, confidence, and assertiveness in her craft gained her the respect of her colleagues so that she was able to join what were previously male-only meetings. In 1962 John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. He requested that Katherine ensure the calculations of the computing machine were correct before starting the mission. Katherine Johnson’s NASA biography highlights the trust Glenn had in her calculations, “‘If she says they’re good,’ Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, ‘then I’m ready to go.’” National Geographic reports, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon and this was made possible by Katherine Johnson’s calculations.

Katherine Johnson passed away on February 24, 2020 and she left behind a legacy of never giving up on her dreams and of fighting not only for women to get the proper credit for their achievements in the workplace, but she trailblazed the way for other African American women to enter into positions that they previously were not able to attain.

The second woman I want to recognize is Hedy Lamarr, who invented technology that allows you to read this post. The National Women’s History Museum provides information on Hedy Lamarr’s contribution to today’s Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth technology. During World War II Hedy Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, a new technology, could be jammed by an enemy and have their intended course altered. Wanting to contribute to this cause, she developed and patented a device called the Secret Communication System along with George Antheil according to Google Patents. National Women’s History Museum reports that the Secret Communication System was made more secure by utilizing ‘frequency hopping’ which made it so the signal for the torpedo could not be tracked and altered. Hedy had submitted her idea to the Navy for use, but they declined as it was too bulky for the torpedoes. Despite her invention not being used for the war, as she intended, her invention made a big impact on future technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Lamarr was a well-known Austrian actress in the 1940s. At the time, Hedy Lamarr was considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world, according to PBS, and because of this, her likeness was used as inspiration to create Disney’s Snow White as well as the Catwoman comic book character.

The third woman I wish to highlight is Rosalind Franklin. She was a British scientist who, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, discovered the molecular structure of DNA using x-ray diffraction methods. Unfortunately, Rosalind Franklin never got a Nobel Prize nor credit for her work. According to National Geographic, at the time most women in the field of science were listed as a “volunteer” to a male colleague on research that they headed, or worse, left out altogether. Rosalind was robbed of having the chance to get credit for her work due to three male colleagues taking her research for their own use without her permission, and thereafter were instead awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, four years after Franklin passed away from ovarian cancer. Despite not getting the recognition she deserved while she was alive, what remains is the legacy of her contributions to the field of chemistry which laid the groundwork for future research on DNA.

There are many women who transcended barriers of their time, including racism and sexism, and there are more women doing the same even in the present. In the words of author J.K. Rowling, “Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.” Let us take the time to celebrate the phenomenal women in our life not only this month but each day of the year.

Liseia Parisian is a Screening Integration Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan and has been a member of the Elder Law of Michigan team since March 2020. As a Screening Integration Coordinator at Elder Law of Michigan, Liseia advocates for seniors and those with disabilities, helping them locate services to increase their quality of life by making sure they have access to food, housing, and healthcare.