Thứ Sáu, 26 tháng 7, 2013

Herstory: Female Innovators

Amelia Earhart
Amelia earhart.jpeg
Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Kansas on July 24, 1897 to Samuel "Edwin" and Amelia "Amy" Earhart.  During her childhood, Amelia, nicknamed "Millie," and her younger sister, Grace, nicknamed "Pidge," grew up very different than other young girls of their time.  Amy didn't believe in raising her girls to be "nice little girls," so she allowed them to run around in bloomers, set off on adventures around the neighborhood, and to engage in rough-and-tumble play usually reserved for boys.  Amelia was home-schooled and became an avid reader.  Always eager to have a career, Amelia kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about women in male-dominated fields.  After high school, she enrolled in Junior College, but never finished her program.  During World War I, she trained and served as a nurse's aid at Spadina Military Hospital.  She caught the Spanish Flu during the pandemic in 1918 and suffered from painful sinus issues and headaches for the rest of her life.  

In 1920, she visited an airfield with her father and a pilot took her up for her first flight.  She later reported, "By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly."  Working a variety of jobs to save money, she eventually saved the $1,000 it would cost her to take flying lessons.  In order to get to the airfield where she learned to fly, she had to take a bus and then walk 4 miles.  Her teacher was Neta Snook, a pioneer for women in aviation.  In 1928, she accompanied Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on a flight across the Atlantic, becoming the first woman to make the trip in an airplane.  She wasn't trained to fly the plane they took, so she went with them as a passenger, humbly and sarcastically remarking that she might as well have been a "sack of potatoes" for all the work she did.  But she did express interest in one day making the trip herself alone.  After this highly publicized flight, she became a popular public figure and used these endorsements to fund her flying.  On her return, she became the first woman to fly across North America and back.

She then developed an interest in competitive flying, entering the Women's Air Derby 1929.  During the last leg of the race, Amelia was tied for first place with her friend Ruth Nichols.  Ruth was set to take off before Amelia on the last day of the race, but Ruth crashed her plane into a tractor at the end of the runway and flipped over.  Rather than take off, Amelia immediately raced over to Ruth's plane and pulled her friend out.  Not until she was sure that Ruth was going to be okay did she take off and fly to the end of the race, finishing third because of her selfless sacrifice.  Always humble, she rarely spoke of the incident in later years.  On the personal front, Amelia married George Putnam in 1931 (although he had to propose to her 6 times before she accepted) and she insisted on having an egalitarian relationship, keeping her own last name and supporting equal breadwinning.


In 1932, Amelia finally achieved her goal to become the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic.  She later became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California and set seven women's speed and distance records between 1930 and 1935.  Her next project was her biggest, and most dangerous, venture yet; she decided to circumnavigate the globe.  The first attempt she made ended in mechanical failure, so she began a second attempt starting from Oakland, California heading east.  Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, successfully completed about 22,000 miles of the trip when they took off from Lae, New Guinea on July 2, 1937 to complete the remaining 7,000 miles.  As they approached Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific, Amelia sent out several radio signals that were received but she was unable to hear the radio signals sent back to her from the island.  Amelia reported that she and Fred thought they were "right on top" of Howland Island, but they couldn't see it and they were running low on gas.  Their last confirmed radio signal was received at 8:43 a.m.  They never landed on Howland and they were never heard from or seen again.  The USCGC Itasca launched an immediate search from Howland Island, where it was stationed, but the search was unsuccessful.  The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard conducted a $4 million air and sea search and rescue mission and Amelia's husband, George, funded a private search of the surrounding islands.  While several theories exist as to what happened to Amelia and Frank, the most widely accepted theory is that the plane crashed and sank into the Pacific and both Amelia and Frank were killed.  However, with both the plane and the bodies undiscovered to this day, the mystery of Amelia Earhart lives on. 


Marie Curie
Marie Curie c1920.png
Maria Sklodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867.  She was educated at a boarding school during her younger years, but was unable to enroll in higher education because she was a woman.  So, she and her sister, Bronislawa, enrolled at The Flying University, a clandestine educational facility that admitted women and taught a Polish curriculum against Russian rule.  In order to help fund her sister's medical studies, she took a job as a governess.  Although she had to wait a year and a half to earn enough to put herself through school further, she continued to educate herself through reading, correspondence, and tutoring.  She also started working with her cousin, Josef, at a chemical laboratory.  She moved to Paris and lived with her sister temporarily while she began her studies at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, where she eventually earned two degrees.  She met Pierre Curie as they worked together in the sciences and developed a mutual attraction for one another.  Pierre proposed to Marie, but she hesitated, intending to return to work in her native Poland.  She moved back to Warsaw, but was denied a position at Krakow University because she was a woman.  Pierre then wrote to her, encouraging her to return to Paris to get a PhD, which she did.  They were married in 1895 and enjoyed bicycling and traveling together.  Their daughter, Irene, was born two years later and a second daughter, Eve, was born seven years after that.


During their examination of scientific elements, Marie created a hypothesis regarding the nature of radiation being due to the interaction of the atom itself, which was an important step in the discovery that atoms were not indivisible.  She spent countless hours distinguishing which elements were radioactive.  Pierre became so intrigued by her work, that he abandoned his own and began to work with her.  Marie was emphatic that she receive credit for the work as her own original thought, not just as her husband's companion because she knew the world would be disbelieving that a woman could come up with these ideas on her own.  The Curies discovered polonium and radium and coined the term "radioactivity."  Marie published her work quickly because the scientific world was quick to credit discoveries to whomever published first, even if they were not the first to truly discover something.  In a 4 year span, Marie and Pierre published, conjointly and separately, 32 scientific papers including one that revealed that tumor-growing cells were killed faster than healthy cells when exposed to radium.  

In 1903, Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.  Marie was the first woman ever to be nominated for a Nobel Prize.  In 1906, Pierre was killed when he was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle during a rainstorm and he fell beneath the wheels and was run over.  The Sorbonne, where he was teaching at the time of his death, had offered him a professorship and the physics chair.  After his death, they decided to offer the position to Marie instead.  Devastated by Pierre's death, she accepted and planned to create a library in honor of Pierre.  Marie became the first female professor to teach at the Sorbonne.  In 1911 she was awarded a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, becoming the first person to be awarded two Nobel prizes.  She also lived to see both her daughter, Irene, and her son-in-law win Nobel prizes for their work with the Radium Institute Marie had established.  She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia, a result of years of working with radioactive material without protection.  Her original papers, and even her cookbook, are kept in lead-lined boxes due to their level of radiation exposure.


Gertrude Elion
Nci-vol-8236-300 Gertrude Elion.jpg
Gertrude Belle Elion was born in New York in 1918 to Robert and Bertha Elion.  When she was 15 years old, her grandfathered died of cancer, instilling in her a vigorous desire to find a cure for the disease.  She received a Bachelor's degree in 1937 and a Master's degree in 1941.  She worked as a lab assistant with George Hitchings at Burroughs-Wellcome pharmaceutical company (now GlaxoSmithKline) and rather than using the typical trial-and-error approach at developing drugs, together they studied the differences in biochemistry between normal human cells and disease-causing agents (pathogens).  They attempted to design drugs that would kill the pathogen without harming the host cells.  Elion invented 7 major pharmaceutical drugs: Purinethol (the first treatment for leukemia), Imuran (the first immuno-suppressive agent, used for organ transplantation), Zyloprim (for gout), Daraprim (for malaria), Septra (for meningitis and other bacterial infections of the urinary and respiratory tracts), Zovirax (for viral herpes), and Nelarabine (for cancer treatment).

In 1988, she received a Nobel Prize in Medicine and in 1991, she became the first woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.  She served for a time as a research professor at Duke University and worked for the National Cancer Institute, American Association for Cancer Research, and the World Health Organization.  She never married and never had children.  She died in 1999.  

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