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November 8 is a day dedicated to celebrating individuals working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and contributing to the world while inspiring others to follow their dreams.
Throughout history, there have been so many women who have made monumental contributions in the field of STEM. Many of these women have paved the way for others to follow, and their stories must be told to inspire future generations to continue their STEM endeavors. Here is a look at a few women in American history whose contributions in their fields have been recognized for their efforts related to STEM.
Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, and moved with her family to New York about a decade later. She graduated from Geneva College in 1849 and studied medicine at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. While she was studying there, a woman was never allowed to treat a patient until she had been employed there for at least two years.
Blackwell’s legacy is that she was recognized as the first woman to receive a medical degree in U.S. history and became the first woman on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council. She also campaigned for education and opportunities for African American women to become doctors.
If you’ve seen the critically acclaimed 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” or read the book by the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly, you probably recognized these women for their contributions to the field of mathematics and NASA during the golden age of space exploration in the 1950s-1960s.
Dorothy Vaughan was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and earned her degree in mathematics from Tennessee State University. She was hired by NASA as part of the West Area Computers, a group of black women who did calculations for engineers at Langley Research Center starting in 1953. It was there that she met Katherine and Mary Jackson who also became part of that group. Vaughan would later become one of the first African American women to serve as a supervisor at NASA.
Katherine Coleman Johnson was born in a small community outside of Richmond, Virginia, and she graduated from Westside High School in 1944. She was inspired to go into the field of mathematics by her math teacher Ms. Frierson, who first encouraged her to go to college. Katherine went on to graduate from West Virginia State College in 1949 with a degree in math and physical science, and she received multiple awards from NASA for her work. She went on to work at Langley Research Center, where she held several positions, including serving as supervisor of tape recorders.
Mary Jackson was born in 1921 in Virginia and grew up in segregated schools and communities. She graduated from Moton High School and earned her degree from Atlantic Christian College (now known as Barton College, also in North Carolina). She was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1952, where she would eventually become a program supervisor. She would go on to work at NASA for nearly 50 years until she retired in 1989.
These three ladies are most recognized today for their work at NASA, but they and many others were recognized for the contributions they made to their fields ranging from the Civil Rights Movement and early women’s rights movements. These women are icons in the field of STEM and serve as role models for girls who might one day follow in their footsteps. They were role models before they worked at NASA, but their work at NASA helped to inspire the next generation of women who came behind them and showed that they could do anything.
Margaret Hamilton was born in Paoli, Indiana in 1936 and went on to study mathematics at Vassar College. She went on to work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Baltimore, Maryland, where she worked on the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.
Hamilton then went on to become a critical part of the Apollo 11 mission. She wrote the onboard flight software for navigation and lunar orbit rendezvous, which was the first time that humans landed on another celestial body.
She said, “The spacecraft had to make its own decisions for landing and be able to solve problems along the way.” She praised the engineering team for their hard work and dedication to their career, calling it a “professional environment that doesn’t exist anymore.”
She would later accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for her contributions to the Apollo mission and for her work with computer science. She was recognized as a leader in the field of software engineering, and her contributions to NASA are considered some of the most significant to date.
Women in STEM continue to inspire girls everywhere that there is a place for them in these fields, and that they are just as capable as men. It’s important to teach girls that they can succeed in these fields and that they can achieve any goal they set for themselves. We applaud these women and the many others who have dedicated their lives to what they love and inspire future generations to come.
As a Certified Women-owned business with a focus on IT and Engineering and over 50% of ICONMA’s workforce consisting of women, it is important to recognize the significance of STEM in history and in today’s workforce.
November 7, 2022