In Celebration of Herstory

Women throughout history have made incredible contributions to our nation’s progress, pushing our country to be safer, more innovative, and more enjoyable. Despite sexism and prejudice from our male counterparts at times, women have proved able to show our prowess and skill time and time again. From Margaret Knight’s invention of a safety device for textile looms to Katharine Burr Blodgett’s invention of non-reflective glass, the world as we know it has been largely shaped by the female presence.
Knight, born in Maine, saw a need for an increase in safety during the late 19th century after witnessing a worker’s injury from a piece of faulty equipment. She invented a device that automatically stopped industrial machines if something was caught on them–at the young age of 12! Later in 1870, she developed a wooden machine that could cut, fold, and glue square bottoms to paper bags–increasing their usefulness immensely. A man named Charles Annan tried to steal her design, claiming a woman could not think of such a complex machine, but she used her sketches to prove otherwise in court and was granted the patent for her invention. Both inventions are still widely used today.

Blodgett, the first woman hired by General Electric, produced an innovation that became extremely useful during World War II when her non-reflective glass was put to use in gas masks, smoke screens, and de-icing airplanes. Today, the glass is still necessary for eyeglasses, car windshields, and even computer screens. Countless inventions have been thrust to the foreground by women who saw a need in the community and worked to meet those needs regardless of what people said they could or could not do. One essential invention we often take for granted on trips is the presence of a life raft. The life raft was created by a woman named Maria Beasley in 1882, a creation that has saved many lives since.

Another invention we often take for granted, the dishwasher, was produced by Josephine Cochrane in the late 1880s. She marketed her product to hotel owners and often attended meetings without a husband or other male escort, making a name for herself, by herself, eventually leading up to the opening of her own factory. In 1897, Anna Connelly created the first outdoor fire escape with an external staircase. Years later in 1903, Mary Anderson developed the windshield wiper, after witnessing drivers pull over to clean the snow and rain off of their cars. Such an invention has likely help prevent many accidents throughout the decades. Stephanie Kwolek invented kevlar, patented in the mid 1960s, the material used in bullet proof vests. Not only is this material five times stronger than steel, it has approximately 200 varying applications, and can also be used in boats, airplanes, ropes, and cables.

As time passes, it is easy to forget about the clever creations that have pushed our world into the technological age of today’s generation. But, if we look back in time, we can see that women’s strength, intelligence, and perseverance has always been stunning. We can look to them as leaders and use their stories as inspiration to write our own tales of greatness, tales that will take us to a future better than the past we have just left. We are creators, inventors, and entrepreneurs. We are women, and this is our month. It’s time to write herstory.

Yemaya Chapter, Lehigh University

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